The American Revolution: Unholy Rebellion Or Holy Disobedience? (IV-Conclusion)

The American Revolution

Every Ordinance Of Man

I have known Christians who thought 1 Peter 2:13 obligated them always to obey the government. What such brethren failed to understand is that such a commandment is qualified (i.e., we are not required to obey every ordinance of man no matter what, but only those things man-made governments have been delegated by God to exercise). (For those who are interested, see my article on The Principle Of Qualification.)  Anything else puts us in the position of obeying man rather than God scenario, an idea refuted by Acts 4:19 and 5:29. The contrast made in Scripture between obeying God rather than man demonstrates that governments, although ordained by God, are man-made (i.e., formed by men), and because they are, they, like individuals, can conduct themselves contrary to what God has said. When they do, they lose their authority in those matters. In other words, there are things that must be rendered to Caesar as well as to God, but when Caesar attempts to command or legislate contrary to what God has commanded, Caesar or the State has no actual authority in such areas. Consequently, any disobedience of such commands is not rebellion. It is, instead, holy disobedience.

The Greek word translated “ordinance” in the phrase mentioned above is ktisis and is, according to Strong’s, “from ktizo; original formation (properly the act; by implication the thing, literally or figuratively):—building, creation, creature, ordinance.” Thus, the very idea of such ordinances being a creation of man is built right into the words being used by the Holy Spirit. Every ordinance of man means every government/institution created by man. Particular governments, then, even particular forms of government, are instituted by men through their common consent, and not by direct divine decree. When this is understood, a whole different concept about the nature of human government is appreciated. It is this insight that motivated those subject to despotic government to realize that such institutions could be rightly resisted.

But How About God’s Anointing Of Kings?

This is a good question that begs to be answered. Surprisingly, the Bible teaches that a man lawfully assumes the right to be King only after being selected to do so by his fellow men. Again, I say “surprisingly,” not because such information ought to be a surprise for the serious student of God’s word—only that it usually is a surprise for those who have not spent much time thinking this subject through. However, when this principle is fully understood, it sheds its rays on the other areas of delegated authority of which the Christian should be familiar. One of these areas, of course, is the Home. And although the principle doesn’t hold true for children (and I’m fairly certain this is because children aren’t yet capable of rigorous rational thought and have no choice as to who their parents are), the wife chooses the man to whose authority she will be submitting. The same is true of the Church which collectively selects/ordains those who will rule over them. Why, then, should we think it would be any different for the State?

The Consent Of The Governed

In Deuteronomy 17:5 and 2 Samuel 3:21, we learn that a man lawfully becomes ruler only after being accepted by his fellow countrymen. His authority becomes effective when he enters into covenant with the people according to 2 Samuel 5:1-3 and 1 Chronicles 11:3. God does not make one king directly. Although he had anointed David years before he ever became king, he was actually made king by the consent of the people (cf. 2 Sam. 3:21; 5:1-3, and 1 Chron. 11:3).

What’s more, civil rulers do not have an absolute right to rule. In 1 Samuel 13:13-14, through His spokesman Samuel, God made this point crystal clear to Saul. Because he acted foolishly and had not kept the commandments of God, he would be removed from power and replaced by another. From the New Testament, in places like 1 Peter 2:14 and Romans 13:4, we learn that civil rulers are commanded by God to honor those who do good and punish those who do evil. Their function is to uphold Justice and Righteousness in the nation for everyone, not to enrich themselves by preying on the very subjects they are commanded to serve and protect, as passages like Deuteronomy 17:18-19, Proverbs 31:5, 8-9, Psalm 72:12-14, and Jeremiah 22:3-4 point out. In other words, such govern “for the people,” and not to heap to themselves even more power and wealth. Furthermore, if they neglect the first while engaging in the latter, then they lose their position as rulers according to Proverbs 16:12 and 25:5.

The Case Of Athaliah: A Blueprint For Lawful Revolution

The Old Testament story of Athaliah is a prime example of the usurpation of a tyrant and how the rule of such a one can be remedied by lawful revolution. Israel’s covenant with God was something the nation had entered into willingly. In other words, they were not forced to leave Egypt, enter Sinai, and there enter into a covenant relationship with God against their wills. They did so because they wanted to. This is borne out by the fact that in the throes of revolt some of the people argued that it would have been better for them to have remained in Egypt and died than to be where they were. Some were even planning on returning (cf. Deut. 14:1-4 for one of these instances).

In Exodus 19:1-8, the people agree to enter into covenant, saying in verse 8, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” They affirmed this again in Exodus 24:3, where it says, “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has said we will do.’” Even after the trouble in the wilderness, a new generation renewed the covenant at Moab (cf. Deut. 29:1-21). Then, after Moses’ death, the people consented to Joshua’s leadership (cf. Joshua 1:1-18). Finally and very importantly, when it comes to considering the reign of Queen Athaliah, the covenant provided for male rulership only (cf. Deut. 17:14-20).

All these facts are critical to interpreting the events surrounding the rise to power of Queen Athaliah and her subsequent overthrow. Summarizing these, Gary T. Amos wrote:

In this example, the form of government had been established by a covenant or compact. The person in the office violated the conditions of the covenant through acts of despotism and tyranny. She had no right to rule. The lower rulers and representatives of the people covenanted together to institute new government. Their revolution was forceful, but lawful. Joash was made king by the people when he entered into covenant with them (Gary T. Amos, Defending The Declaration: How the Bible and Christianity Influenced the Writing of the Declaration of Independence, 1989, p. 131).

Thus, the saga of Athaliah, a rebellious, murderous woman born of rebellious, murderous parents (viz., Ahab and Jezebel), serves as a blueprint for the godly revolution the Founding Fathers seemed to have followed meticulously. The procedure outlined above is easily discernable in the Declaration of Independence. If you have never read all of it, then I strongly urge you to do so, for when you do so, you can see for yourself just how scrupulously the Founding Fathers followed the aforementioned blueprint for revolution. None of this is to say that all that the Founding Fathers had in mind matched exactly the account mentioned above, only that they were following a long list of thinkers and writers who had thought deeply about the scriptural significance of such an account and how it applied to the circumstances of their day. I’m talking about men like Samuel Rutherford, who wrote Lex Rex or The Law and the Prince (1644) during the early stages of the English Civil War and John Locke, whose Second Treatise of Government (1688) so influenced the political thought of the Colonies and the Declaration of Independence, all of which were critical of the alleged Divine Right of Kings. These men had, by various means, arrived at a way of thinking about government that would, when fully embraced, cause the face of government to change dramatically in 1776 when our well-read Founding Fathers presented us with a form of government unparalleled in the history of mankind, a form to which man had actually been well-suited from the very beginning. Indeed, man does have certain “unalienable rights” that are granted to him by his Creator. Therefore, government, which is ordained by God but formed by man, must not attempt to interfere with such rights. Instead, it is duty-bound to protect them. When it doesn’t, engaging instead in tyranny, despotism and arbitrary rule, it loses its right to govern.

Rutherford and Locke, both of whom were noted earlier, insisted that mere incompetence was not a reason for revolution. In other words, “[S]uch revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs” (Locke, Second Treatise, p. 126, sec. 225). The ruler must commit repeated acts of tyranny, that is, “a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way” which “make the design visible to the people” that said ruler intends to destroy them and their land (ibid.). Again, a reading of the Declaration of Independence demonstrates that the Colonists’ rejection of King George’s rule was not a capricious, arbitrary act, but was undertaken only after a long list of abuses. Thus, the theory of revolution set forth in Lex Rex and the Second Treatise are the same and are based on scriptural examples, like the one found in the saga of Athaliah and the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Jephthah as a prince over the people in Judges 11:1-11, which Locke specifically referred to as an example of the people’s right to choose those who would, in turn, rule over them, which serves as an example of the compact theory of government— a theory that said the people and ruler enter into a compact before God that binds both the ruler and the people to certain obligations and responsibilities.

Thus, if the ruler fails in his part of the compact, then such failure is viewed as a material breach by which the ruler forfeits his right to rule. Tyranny, when it can be substantiated by repeated acts, is a material breach of the covenant or compact that exists between a ruler and those he rules. He can, then, be rightly deposed, not by riot and anarchy, but by the orderly exercise of duly constituted authorities who intercede on behalf of the people. That this is exactly what happened on July 4, 1776 is well established. Consequently, the American Revolution was not an act of rebellion against lawful authority, which would have been sinful, but resistance to, and the ultimate casting off of, a tyrant.

According to charges outlined in the Declaration of Independence, the king of England was a tyrant. This was established, it was claimed, by a series of tyrannical abuses: obstruction of justice; acts contrary to the public good; the suspension and impeding of legislatures; interfering with elections; corruption of the judiciary; wasting of the public and private wealth; the enforcement of martial law in time of peace; spying on the people; breaking charters; putting the government in the hands of those who had no right to rule; waging war against unarmed towns and cities, perpetrated repeated acts of theft, murder, and barbarity. In short, the king of England had denied the laws of nature, nature’s God, and of England, repudiating its charters. He could, then, be lawfully deposed as a tyrant who had materially and repeatedly broken his promises.

That such was formal and public is self-evident. That such a Declaration was written by “representatives” of the people who, as lower magistrates, had assembled for the express purpose of interposing themselves between the king and those he sought to destroy, cannot be denied. That in doing so, they appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the world” is another thing that cannot be denied. Based upon the evidence, and the motives of those involved, I believe it cannot be successfully denied that the American Revolution was, in fact, right and honorable in the sight of God. In other words, it was not just legal, but it was biblical as well. The biblical roots are “historically evident, logically compelling, and easily researchable” (Amos, p. 150). Although the Bible was not the only influence for its conception, I believe it is correct to say that without the Bible the Declaration of Independence could have never been written.

That the United States of America is a nation that was built on certain eternal principles taught in God’s word has continued to be its resounding legacy. As I have studied the history of its founding, it would be most difficult for me to think it happened due to some random collocation of atoms at a particular time and place—i.e., blind chance. Instead, I must think, like others before me, and I hope like others who will come after me, that America is what it is by the providential hand of Almighty God. In thinking such thoughts, I am reminded of what was said of the U. S. Constitution, a document that was constructed on the firm foundation of the Declaration of Independence—a document that was adopted on September 17, 1787, but was not formally ratified by two-thirds of the Colonies until June 21, 1788. About this document, the great British Prime Minister William Gladstone said, a century later, it was “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man,” an idea that seems to jibe nicely with George Washington’s conclusion that “the event is the hand of God” (Gladstone’s and Washington’s quotes are from Hart, op. cit., p. 329).

In closing, I leave you with what Gary T. Amos said in the epilogue of his book, arguing that the American Revolution is not over as long as there are those who do not believe that “all men are created equal.” Writing of what he thinks to be today’s consensus, he said:

Now, however, the Declaration’s ideas are scoffed at by philosophers, misrepresented by historians, attacked by clergymen, ridiculed by law professors, held in contempt by power hungry politicians, and ignored by the people. As long as this continues, the American Revolution is not over (Amos, p. 170).

The American Revolution: Unholy Rebellion Or Holy Disobedience? (III)

The American Revolution

The Whigs’ View

With the rise to the throne of Charles I, the Puritan/non-Catholic/non-conformist cause in England seemed to be dead. Under Queen Elizabeth and then King James, there was hope that the English Church might abandon its Romanized hierarchical structure. But with the ascent to the throne of Charles I, all hope was lost. To protect the Church-State relationship that vested in the British monarch all-encompassing power, Charles directed Archbishop William Laud to purge England of all those who attacked the “stately grandeur of his royal church” (op. cit., p. 86). The result was a terrible reign of terror. For criticizing the church, one could be branded and put in prison for life. In fact, these were the usual penalties. Also, one could have his or her ears cropped and nostrils slit. There were also heavy fines, long prison terms in rodent-infested dungeons, all of which depended on just how egregious the offense was perceived to be. Because the Puritan/non-Catholic/non-conformist preachers were usually the more eloquent speakers, all sermons were outlawed. Innovative preachers took to calling their sermons “lectures,” but these, too, were also banned. It was such persecution that caused these folks to seek relief in the New World. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Laud purge and persecution in England (cf. a history of Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, 1633) had helped to bring to Massachusetts Bay and other places along the eastern shores of the American continent a group of people who were looking for the freedom to exercise themselves religiously as their consciences dictated. It matters not that these Pilgrims established their own State churches, for one was not forced to live within these jurisdictions but was, in fact, free to move and live where one wanted.

So, it can be seen that Puritans and those of their ilk pressed upon our shores to establish commonwealths in accordance with the understanding they had of the precepts found in God’s word. Because the truths taught in the Bible and democratic institutions are compatible, Puritans and Whigs would eventually and easily coalesce into a formidable alliance that would stand against the Crown and those aligned with it, like the Tories/Anglicans.

Factor into all this the writings of John Locke et al., along with the pamphleteering that was so prevalent in Colonial America, and you have a very well-read citizenry that rejected Thomas Hobbes’ divine right of kings philosophy in favor of the Lockean concept of a government that exercises itself with the consent of the governed. Although this was a revolutionary idea for the time, it was a concept that, surprisingly, had been taught in God’s word all along. I say “surprisingly,” because what the Bible actually taught on this subject had been skewed by several things.

One of these was the Hobbesian/Machiavellian justification of the government’s right to exercise absolute power. The other was the misinterpretation of Romans 13:1-7, which believed that the actual ordaining of a specific, particular government is what these verses are all about—rather than the idea that government in general, a government that would have certain God-ordained qualities, is what was under discussion. From these mistakes evolved the so-called “Divine Right of Kings” doctrine that prevailed in England, at least in the minds of the monarchs and those who supported them (e.g., the Tories/Anglicans).

The Divine Right Of Kings

The Divine Right of Kings is a doctrine of political absolutism and is the general term used for the ideas surrounding the authority and legitimacy of a Monarch. It broadly holds that a monarch derives his right to rule from the will of God, and not from any temporal authority, including the will of his subjects. Directly chosen by God, a monarch is accountable only to Deity, and answers only to Him for his actions. As King James I of England said in the Basilikon Doron, a manual printed in Edinburgh in 1599 and London in 1603 vis-à-vis the duties of a King, which was written in the form of a private and confidential letter to his eldest son, Henry, Prince of Wales:

Just as no misconduct on the part of a father can free his children from obedience to the fifth commandment, so no misgovernment on the part of a King can release his subjects from their allegiance (cf. C. V. Wedgwood, The King’s Peace, 1956, p 63).

This, then, along with his The True Law of Free Monarchies, which was published in 1598, is the best articulation extant of The Divine Right of Kings and shows the mistake King James I and the Stuart kings who followed him made when it came to the exercise of their delegated authority. In The True Law, James wrote:

A good King will frame his actions to be according to the law, yet he is not bound thereto but of his good will.

King James also caused to be printed his book entitled Defense of the Right of Kings, which was designed to counter those who questioned the King’s alleged God-given right to exercise absolute power. In it, he claimed the King was the supreme authority on earth and therefore not subject to any so-called “inferior” powers. In making these claims, King James was trying to put to rest the thinking of Puritans, those pesky non-conformists who viewed the King as a servant of God on the people’s behalf and therefore subject to them as well as to God.

Clearly, then, the Whigs/Puritans were conscientious objectors to the Divine Right of Kings. They believed that Romans 13:1-7 was speaking of government in general, namely, a government consisting of qualities that would cause it to support the doing of Justice and Righteousness, a government that would serve the people. I believe the Whigs/Puritans were right, and it was precisely this kind of thinking that motivated the colonists to cut ties finally with the English Crown. (Note: For those interested in a better understanding of this development, they must spend some time studying the events that led up to Magna Carta and the profound influence this compact had on the development of the legal system in England and America. Two excellent books on this are Louis Wright’s Magna Carta and the Tradition of Liberty, 1976, and A. E. Dick Howard’s The Road From Runnymede: Magna Carta and Constitutionalism in America, 1968. Wright’s book is a condensed treatment of Professor Howard’s more detailed work.)

Thus, what started in 1776 in America was the continuation of a struggle that had been going on for quite some time.

In an effort to make short the long and complicated journey to 1776, I’ve neglected many important developments, like the rise of the mislabeled Holy Roman Empire and the development of the apostate Roman Catholic Church which, along with its popes, wholeheartedly endorsed the line of emperors beginning with the Emperors Constantine and Theodosius, later the Eastern Roman emperors, and finally the Western Roman emperor, Charlemagne. To counter the unchecked authority of the emperor/king, the Catholic Church developed the theory of “Two Swords.” This taught that the only authority that could depose a monarch was the pope. This was not just an idea that lived in theory alone. It was, in fact, a power popes effectively exercised on more than one occasion. But with the rise of Protestantism, kings were left with nothing to check their power and therefore, if inclined, could be despots. As a result, the people suffered, and it was the realities of this suffering that caused some to begin to closely examine what God actually said about these things in His word. So, although I haven’t gone into all of this in great detail, such should be interesting to those wanting to study these things in depth.

King James writings were intended to be critical of both Papists and Puritans, for both, for very different reasons, were rightly viewed as threats to his absolute power. Not only was he the King, but he was head of the Church of England as well, and he didn’t intend to have his authority questioned by the Roman Catholic Church nor the Puritan/Protestant non-conformists. These differences would lead to Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Revolution of the 1640s, a Revolution in which King James’ son, Charles I, was beheaded in 1649, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and finally the American Revolution of 1776.

Government, according to Romans 13:1-7, is ordained by God. But this pericope is not teaching that God specifically sets in place particular governments (although He could have, and has, done so), but that He has ordained the purpose of government. It is important to understand the apostle Paul is not saying every government is specifically ordained by God, as some have supposed. On the contrary, what he is telling us is precisely what type of government (viz., its character) that God has ordained. If one understands this, then the difficulties Christians face in reconciling their obedience to God and the State are somewhat mitigated. For example, although many Christians believe that the teaching of the Bible demands they be obedient and supportive of both good and evil governments, no matter what the circumstances, this is not the teaching of Romans 13; nor do I believe it to be the teaching of other scriptures dealing with this subject.

The Bible teaches that the kind of rulers who have been ordained by God are not a “terror to good works, but to evil” (Rom. 13:3). They are described as “God’s ministers” who have been ordained by Him for the good of those they govern, and a part of that good is to “execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). Christians should be subject to civil government and its authorities not just because the government has the power to inflict punishment for wrongdoing, but because Christians’ consciences, properly instructed by God’s Word, tell them that to do otherwise would be a violation of His will. It is quite clear that God has ordained the higher powers and has placed responsibilities both on them and on those to whom they minister. If either the State or the citizens it governs conduct themselves contrary to the obligations and responsibilities God has placed upon them, then both lose their legitimacy in those specific matters.

This does not jibe with the Calvinists’ view of things, nor even with what many Christians believe about these verses. Nevertheless, I am convinced that, according to Romans 13:1-7, it is the purpose of government that is ordained by God and not the particular government, as so many believe. It must be remembered that God is not addressing in His word people with no free-will. On the contrary, He is speaking to people who will know that God has ordained government for their general welfare and, for this reason, they are willing to submit themselves to it.

At the same time, and this has been a much-neglected subject among those who believe God specifically ordains particular governments and that men are duty bound always to obey such governments, the Bible teaches that a particular government is the creation of men. For example, in 1 Peter 2:13-14, we are told to “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” It is the “every ordinance of man” that I want us to think about for a moment, for it is in this expression that we understand that although government has been ordained by God, particular governments are the creation of men. I’ll have more to say about this in what follows.

(continued)

The American Revolution: Unholy Rebellion Or Holy Disobedience? (II)

The American Revolution

The history that follows is not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. It is intended only to demonstrate the root cause of the Colonists’ resistance to King George III along with the reasons they gave for resisting him.

The Tories And Whigs

It has been my experience that anyone struggling with what the Bible says about rebellion and “the spirit of 1776” has probably given some thought to what party he would have aligned himself with during the American Revolution. Tories were Colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown up to and during the Revolution. Thus, they were also called Loyalists, the King’s Men, and Royalists. Their opponents, who supported the American Revolution, were called Whigs, Patriots, Rebels, and Congress Men. Thus, these two parties, the Tories and the Whigs, represent the sharp division that existed in the Colonies prior to and during the American Revolution. Taking the time to understand these two parties goes a long way in helping one to comprehend the root causes of the Revolution or Rebellion, for depending upon what party you were a member of, or sympathetic to, you thought of it as being either one or the other.

The Tories’ View Of Things

Historians have estimated that about 33% of the white population may have been Loyalists (i.e., about 500,000), but there are no exact numbers. They, of course, saw themselves as the “honourable” ones who stood by the Crown and the British Empire, which they believed to be the rightful authority under whom they were obligated to be obedient. (Note: “Honourable” is the softer English spelling of the sharper American “honorable” and is something a Tory would have been very careful to maintain.) So, it is clear that if the Tories were right, the American Revolution was nothing less than sinful rebellion. It will be my task, then, to refute the Tory view.

But before doing so, let me say that I suspect that many of my brethren, if alive then, would have been Tories. There was even a time when I thought that I would have been one as well. I no longer think so. I attribute this to two things: (1) my continued study of God’s word and (2) a more thorough understanding of the history and writings that led to the American Revolution. Therefore, if anything, I would have been a Whig. I say “if anything” because it is the possibility that I could have been totally apolitical, even though I rather doubt it. What’s more, the pacifists among us who I’ve spoken with would surely have taken a hands-off position on the whole “nasty” thing, while all the while quietly or silently rooting for one side or the other. I say this because although my pacifist brethren think the Christian ought to never be involved in war, they nevertheless usually have some definite ideas about who they think should win such wars, especially when their own interests are at stake. In other words, they believe it would have been wrong for them to fight against the Germans and Japanese during WW II, for example, but they’re sure glad the Allies fire-bombed German cities and atomized a portion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to hasten that war to its “rightful” conclusion. But I digress. Again, if you’re interested in a further study of this, consider my little book on war, where I deal with this in much more detail (cf. The Christian & War).

For the sake of argument, and for the purpose of simplifying a rather complex set of circumstances, I am using the Tory and Whig parties to explain the two very different perspectives of the Colonialists up to and during the Revolution. This is not to say there were not more nuanced ideas on either side, only that the basic differences between these two parties pretty well sums up the major differences that ripped through the political-social fabric of the Colonies at the time of the Revolution.

The Puritans

Factored into this equation must also be the influence of the Puritans. In fact, the story of religion in America is the story of Puritanism. At the time of the Revolution, about three-quarters of the North American Colonists were of Puritan extraction. Without a doubt, it was the dominant political, religious, and intellectual force throughout the 17th and 18th centuries (Benjamin Hart, Faith & Freedom, p. 83). Therefore, given all the good things we owe to the Puritan legacy, it is disappointing how little most Americans actually know about them. In fact, the term Puritan actually carries with it a negative connotation today. Notwithstanding, it was Puritans who actually gave us “our first written constitutions, regular elections, the secret ballot, the federalist principle, and separation of Church and State” (Ibid.). Furthermore, it was their work ethic and their emphasis on equality under the law that spawned the capitalist spirit that triumphed over the hereditary privilege that had so dominated England.

It is even argued today that Puritanism failed. After all, there is not one single Puritan left to be found anywhere on the planet. But those who think this way are very much mistaken, for the Puritan spirit remains omnipresent in much of America, even to this day. I’ll say more about this a bit further along, but before doing so, it is important to understand that Puritanism was never a formal Christian sect or denomination. The term, like now, was more a term of derision, and it is believed to have been first used by Queen Elizabeth who branded those who refused to conform to the “Liturgie, Ceremonies and Discipline of the Church” with the “invidious” name of “Puritane” (Ibid.).

Puritans, it is discovered, simply thought of themselves as Christians. What they had in common was a belief “that the official church was not a true Christian church in the sense of resembling the church established by Jesus and his Apostles” (Op. cit., p. 84). To them, the Church of England or Anglican Church, as it was also known, was an abomination, for they believed that any church under the authority of a monarch was not really much different than one under the rule of a pope, and it can be safely said that they relished neither the Church of England nor the Church of Rome.

Consequently, Puritans were keen to attack anything resembling “popish” ritual in the English Church, and there was plenty of it to attack. In response, Queen Elizabeth said such people were “over bold with God Almighty, making too many subtle scannings of His Blessed Will.” They were viewed as not just trouble-makers, but downright subversive as well. Writing in the 1630s, Thomas Hobbes, who was a staunch supporter of monarchy, expressed the sentiments of the ruling elites of his day when he said that such people were poor security risks.

So, it seems, Puritanism was always associated with rebellion, and rebellion, most thought, was always wrong. However, rebellion was something most Puritans were reluctant to engage in, as they, too, thought such to be a sin. But when the government, and please keep in mind that their’s was a government where the separation of Church and State did not exist, pressed them, as it frequently did, to choose between their monarch’s will and what they believed to be God’s will, there was absolutely no doubt whom they intended to obey.

Of course, Puritans were not rebellious by nature. In fact, they believed that even an unjust and corrupt government was better than no government at all—at least up to a point. Just where that point happened to be was a question that could only be answered by individual conscience, and this only after applying the principles taught in the Bible. Speaking of this, Benjamin Hart perceptively wrote:

The point at which the individual Protestant in England decided to separate from, or rebel against, the established church varied, and thus had a bearing on the type of Protestants with whom he associated. The Episcopalian rejected the pope, but accepted bishops; the Presbyterian said no to bishops in favor of presbyters; Congregationalists shunned all ecclesiastical jurisdiction outside of the particular parish; Anabaptists were similar to Congregationalists, but were more radical in their separatist views. Perhaps more than any Christian sect, Anabaptists rejected human pronouncements and accepted as authoritative only the unadorned word of God. The branch of Protestantism one associated with usually had a bearing on one’s politics. Episcopalians identified more readily with aristocracy and Toryism; Presbyterianism with republican government; Congregationalism with democracy; while Anabaptist Separatists tended to be hostile to all man-made constructions, and might be considered libertarian (though certainly not libertine). It was these kinds of people, mainly Congregationalist and Separatist Protestants, who, prodded by the royal and church bureaucracy, decided in the 1630s to leave Old England for New England. It was a mass exodus. They emigrated, in fact, in such numbers that it must have appeared as though all of England was leaving. They included men of wealth, education, and position: lawyers, doctors, merchants, college professors, and some of the most famous evangelists and theologians (Op. cit., pages 84-85).

To make a long and complicated history short and succinct, the politics of Old England were very much associated with one’s religious perspective. All this evolved into two basic parties that were very much tied to one’s religious views: Whig/Puritan and Tory/Anglican. It was these two parties, then, with their roots very much in Old England, that are in play in New England and the rest of the Colonies before and during the Revolution.

So with a better understanding of the political and religious history of the two parties that were extant at the time of the Revolution, I can comfortably say that I would not have been at all inclined toward Toryism, and this for religious reasons more than anything else. I would no doubt have seen my Tory friends and neighbors as dupes of the very system I had come to the Colonies to get away from—a Church-State system that, by its very nature, was coercive of individual conscience. With this said, it is time to take a look at the Whig party, which we shall do, Lord permitting, in the next installment.

(continued)

The American Revolution: Unholy Rebellion Or Holy Disobedience?

The American Revolution

Because rebellion is so clearly condemned in the Scriptures, many Christians have believed the American Revolution was inherently sinful. I believe they are wrong, and in the pages that follow, I will give my reasons why. In doing so, I will capitalize on the fact it is sometimes necessary to resist authority. I have dubbed such resistance, “holy disobedience.” But it is important to notice just here that I believe holy disobedience is not really rebellion at all, for rebellion, by biblical standards, is the sinful refusal to obey lawful authority. Therefore, what some call rebellion is, in truth, obedience to God rather than man (cf. Acts 4:18-19; 5:27-29).

There must be no doubt the Bible teaches that lawful authority, whether in the Home, the Church, or the State, can never be rightly resisted. Such disobedience is always sinful. Thus, if the American Revolution is to be successfully defended, then it must be demonstrated that the Colonists were not in rebellion. Instead, they were exercising their God-given duty to resist unlawful authority. If, in the process of doing so, they found it necessary to jettison not lawful authority, which would have been wrong, but the illegal activities of a tyrant, which is always the obligation of honorable men, then sin cannot attach to such actions unless such is accomplished by anarchy. As we shall see, anarchy was not the means used by the Colonists, nor was it ever the intended goal.

But for those who believe war is always wrong, the American Revolution could never be vindicated. If you are of that persuasion, I cannot hope to convince you of the rightness of the “spirit of 1776,” for it is a story of war. If there is no such thing as a just war (I like to call this the “anti-war default”), then the American Revolution was not just wrong, but sinfully so. For those who think this way, my thesis is already unsustainable. All I can do, then, is suggest you consider the more extensive arguments I make about war in my little book devoted to that subject (cf. Allan Turner, The Christian & War, 2006).

In the same vein, those who believe it is always wrong to disobey those in positions of authority (and I like to refer to this as the “anti-disobedience default,” the American Revolution must always be wrong.

On the other hand, if you believe that holy disobedience is not just an option, but sometimes a requirement, then I may be able to convince you that the cause of the Colonists was right and just. So, if you agree with me that war is not always inherently sinful, that the exercise of tyrannical power is always wrong, and that it is sometimes right to resist such power, then I hope to be able to convince you that the American Revolution continues to stand as a shining example of what “holy disobedience” and “just war” are all about.

However, before anyone can hope to pass righteous judgment on the American Revolution, it will be necessary to “get up to speed” on the major differences that existed in England and the American Colonies prior to July 4, 1776. This we will do, Lord willing, in the next installment.

(continued)

The Shibboleths Of A Bygone Era?

Shibboleth

The Hebrew word transliterated as “shibboleth” was used to expose an Ephraimite who was trying to hide his identity from the Jews (Judges 12:6). He was unable to pronounce the word the way a Jew would and he paid for it with his life. Today, the word “shibboleth” is identified as a word or phrase that marks a particular group or cause; a catchword or slogan, if you will.

The shibboleths of a bygone era, like “If a man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) have been largely replaced by the “feel good about yourself” gospel of Dr. Feelgood—a “gospel” that excites the minds and tickle the ears of a faithless church and a lost and dying world.

Although brethren continue to utter the shibboleths of an almost forgotten period, they no longer have the stomachs for fighting the “good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). This is evidenced by the following excerpt taken from a church bulletin entitled “Why We Aren’t Growing”:

Desire For a Fight. One of the main reasons we have seen a decline in conversions is that we are constantly looking for fights among ourselves. No sooner has one “issue” been defeated (with no small losses) than we are busy looking around for the next big “issue.” From institutionalism to Grace-Fellowship—Calvinism to Deity-Humanity of Christ we eagerly wade [up to] our necks in the blood of sometimes innocent Christians (i.e. babes in Christ). This is not to say that the truth should not be defended, but I think a party spirit prevails among God’s people at this time.

Did you notice the shibboleth? It says, “This is not to say that the truth should not be defended.” But if one decides to actually defend the truth, he’s quickly branded a spiritual gunslinger with notches on his gun and an itchy trigger finger. However, and those addicted to the religion of Dr. Feelgood will always have trouble with it, in order to defend the truth, one must be willing to stand against falsehood and those who espouse it. What this means is that a Christian cannot simply give lip-service to defending the “old paths” (cf. Jeremiah 6:16) and then cowardly shoot in the back those who believe and act on what he says. In other words, Christians who are true to the Lordship of Jesus Christ cannot just engage in shibboleths (i.e., just “talking the talk,” if you will), they must be willing to “walk the walk” as well (cf. 1 Peter 4:11).

Male And Females Roles And The Ravages Of Sin

Male and Female Roles

As originally created, the male and female were to complete the other. As such, they fulfilled their God-ordained purpose of procreating and subduing the earth. Neither was to seek the other´s position, but as half of a whole, they were to complement each other. When sin entered into the world, their distinctive roles were blurred and their harmonious relationship distorted. Instead of working together in unity, they began to compete with each other. Instead of reflecting the glory of God, they began to mirror the corruption of sin. Their original “oneness” was replaced by a power struggle that has continued in society ever since. This struggle, although it does not always manifest itself overtly, lies just below the surface in even the best of marriages.

Consequently, many men, even Christians, “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), have engaged in the practice of “lording it over” their wives. On the other hand, many women, even Christians, have become “silly women laden with sins” (2 Timothy 3:6) and. as such, have not willingly submitted to the headship of their husbands. It is sad, but true, that many Christians, both males and females, instead of “prov[ing] what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1), are actually being guided by current secular values. But we, of all people, ought to know the answer to this problem is not found in current secular thought or even in so-called traditional thinking. Rather, the answer is found in God’s Word.

Pink And Brown People

Racism is sin.

This article is about prejudice. It’s about the ‘n’ word as well as every other denigrating racial slur in use today. Of course, the mature Christian would not use any of these ugly slurs for they indicate a condition of the heart that is clearly condemned in God’s word. We’ll have more to say about this shortly, but first, there are some things we ought to consider concerning the subject of prejudice.

Prejudice Is A Perception Problem

Thomas Sowell, an extremely talented black thinker and writer, writing in the Washington Star, said:

A man who says we should really “tell it like it is” refers to whites and blacks as “pink people“ and “brown people.” These jarring phrases are of course more accurate, but that may be why they are jarring. Race is not an area especially noted for accuracy—or for rationality or candor. More often it is an area of symbolism, stereotype, and euphemism. The plain truth sounds off-key and even suspicious. Gross exaggerations like white and black are more like the kind of polarization we are used to.

More Alike Than Different

All of us, no matter what color we are, are much more alike than we are different. We are all created in the image of God and the blood that gives life to one “race” also gives life to another (cf. Acts 17:26). We all share a multitude of beliefs, thoughts, feelings, hopes, and aspirations. This is not to say there are no differences among us. Some of us are male, some female; some black (brown), some white (pink); some red, some yellow; some tall, some short; some thin, some fat; etc. Of course, none of these differences are what makes us uniquely human. Therefore, prejudice, whether racial or otherwise, attempts to disguise the commonality shared by all human beings and, thus, capitalize on our differences.

A Case In Point

In the surrealistic motion picture Apocalypse Now, there is a graphic scene in which a group of U.S. servicemen on gunboat duty encounter a boatload of Vietnamese civilians. One thing leads to another in the confrontation until a misinterpreted move is made by one of the civilians. It is then that the Americans open fire with machine-guns, killing all the Vietnamese onboard. All during the killing, which was portrayed in slow motion, the Americans, both whites and blacks, were using words like “gook,” “slants,” and “slopes.” Just how accurate this scene was in depicting the reality that was Vietnam we do not know. However, it did accurately represent the idea that killing is facilitated by hate, and hate by ugly racial epithets.

Institutionalized Racism

Until recently (the last fifty years), prejudice against blacks was institutionalized in this country. Not only were blacks considered to be second-class citizens, they were thought of as second-class human beings as well. In some cases, they were not even recognized as “fully evolved” human beings. To deny this is to deny the way things were. As a nation, we have acknowledged the wrongness of racial prejudice and have instituted efforts to protect the human rights of black Americans.

Is Racism Dead?

Does this mean that prejudice and racism are dead in our society? Of course not! Racial prejudice is still very much a part of our nation. Although it is no longer institutionalized, it continues to live in the hearts of some men and women (both white and black). Sometimes it even rears its ugly head among Christians. Some years ago, when making preparations for a gospel meeting with an evangelist who was black, the local evangelist of a church of Christ in a well-recognizable city in mid-America received a phone call from an individual who insisted that it was wrong for those of different races to meet and worship together on a regular basis. This individual is reported to have said that such would cause “the blacks to think they were equal with whites.” The shocked evangelist says his response was, “I surely hope so.” What makes this phone conversation so shocking is that it did not come from a member of the Ku Klux Klan or some other White Supremacy group. Neither was it from some person in the world who is not interested in God’s word. It was, instead, from an individual who is a member of the body of Christ and preacher of the gospel. When he was asked what he would do if black people visited the congregation where he preached and expressed their desire to be identified with the work, he is reported to have said he would take them aside and talk to them and advise them to attend elsewhere (naming three other congregations in the area). At least the man James condemns in James 2 was willing to make a place for the poor man; this man was not even willing to do that for one who was black.

What Sayeth The Lord?

There is absolutely no excuse for such behavior on the part of one who professes to be a Christian. The apostle Peter said, “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Peter should have known that the Gentiles were to be a part of the New Covenant without having to become Jews based on what the prophets had said about it (Isaiah 2:2-4; Joel 28:19,20), and the commission the Lord gave him (Matthew 28:19,20). But it took a miracle to make him really understand it. With improved perception, Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). This seems to be a very hard lesson for some to understand even today. Short of a miracle, it appears some are just not going to be convinced of this truth.

Someone might be tempted to say, “Okay, okay, you’ve made your point; if they are going to be in heaven, then I suppose I can stand them being in our assemblies, but that’s as far as it goes.” But, I have not yet made the point I wish to make. The issue of prejudice is not just limited to what some would call a religious application. It has a social application as well.

In Acts 11:3, certain of the Jerusalem brethren were upset with Peter because he had socialized with the Gentiles. Later on, because he apparently feared this powerful group, Peter failed to eat or socialize with the Gentiles and it was necessary for Paul to withstand him to his face because he was to be blamed (Galatians 2:11). Notice, if you will, that Peter was not refusing to have fellowship with the Gentile Christians in the assemblies of the church, but he was refusing to eat or socialize with them. According to Paul, Peter “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” in this matter (Galatians 2:14). If it was wrong for Peter to refuse to socialize with people because of their racial background almost two thousand years ago, what makes anyone think racial discrimination could be right when engaged in by Christians today?

But Prejudice Is Not Just A White Man’s Disease

Years ago, while in college, I worked as a plain-clothes security guard for a large department store chain. My job was to catch shoplifters—and I caught a lot of them. It wasn’t long before a new lady, who was black, was assigned to me for training. One day she signaled me that she had a shoplifter spotted. When I approached her for a description of the offender, she told me he was a male and then began to give me a description of his clothing and general build. I said, “What color is he?” She gave me a very startled look and continued giving me a description of the culprit’s clothing. Again, I said, “What color is he?” She said, with a very hurt look on her face, “Black, but I don’t see what that has to do with it.” After apprehending the shoplifter and finishing the paperwork, I had the opportunity to explain to my partner that every police description of a suspect begins with his or her race, then sex, age, etc. I explained to her that I meant nothing derogatory in asking for the miscreant’s race, but was only trying to get him identified. She said she had thought the question implied race had something to do with the crime, i.e., “he’s probably a black, right?” I assured her this was not the case and that the question itself proved it was not intended to be prejudicial in that it assumed the shoplifter could be either white or black. It most certainly did not assume that the shoplifter was probably black because white people assume most blacks are thieves. After having some time to think about it, this lady, much to her credit, apologized for what she admitted was her own prejudice. I happen to believe the world was made better that day in that two people, two “races,” and two sexes began to understand the other just a little bit better.

Although it sounds strange, racism is really color blind. Although they are rarely held accountable for their own prejudices, blacks, as well as whites, are guilty of racism. As a matter of fact, a system of reverse discrimination has now been institutionalized in our society. White men are now being refused jobs for which they are qualified solely because they are white and male. Under the present quota system, the best qualified does not necessarily get the job. A female or black with substandard test scores and qualifications will get the job or appointment over the better qualified white applicant if the female and black quotas have not been filled. This kind of bias is wrongly being sanctioned in America today. Discrimination in housing, education, or employment is considered vile and intolerable unless it is directed at white males, in which case it is justified as a necessary expedient for attaining “equality.” When conservative black men speak out against such abuses, they are considered traitors by members of their own race. Why? Because racism isn’t just a white man’s disease. So, while it’s axiomatic that many blacks vote reflexively for black candidates, they are rarely held accountable for their own prejudices. Even so, racial prejudice is no less ugly, and no more justifiable, when committed by blacks, although many will argue otherwise.

Racism Is A Sin That Will Stoke The Fires Of Hell

Racism, whether among whites or blacks, is a sin that will stoke the fires of hell for an eternity. This is the very thing the Lord was addressing in Matthew 5:22. There the Lord said:”But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

In this passage, the Lord identified three stages of condemnation: (1) the local group of judges—the judgment, (2) the Jewish high court—the council, and (3) the ultimate judgment of God—hell fire. The teaching is that if one is angry with another in his heart, it may cause him to act in such a way as to be called before the local authorities (viz., they may want to know why one is acting the way he is). If one progresses further and heaps scorn on his neighbor by reflecting on his intellectual capacity by verbalizing such words as “raca, simpleton and stupid,” then one may just find himself before the high court for his slanderous remarks. But, if one thinks of his neighbor as a “fool,” (all the commentators seem to agree this refers to the moral and religious character of an individual, e.g., using abusive and defamatory words like “worthless” and “scum”), then one will be judged worthy of the ultimate penalty—namely, hell fire!

In Conclusion

Dear brother and sister in Christ, white or black, just because prejudice is something which is sometimes only a very personal thing does not mean it is something we do not have to worry about. Just because it remains hidden in the heart does not mean it will not send us to hell—it will! As we grow up in Christ Jesus, let us be determined to

[S]peak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. (3) For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
(Titus 3:2-3).