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Monday, April 09, 2007

The absent revolutionary

No more Mr. nice blogger. It's time to start asking some tough questions. For most of my life, I have believed that America is a nation founded by Christian men on Christian principles. If you look at our constitution, I would agree that the principles of separation of powers as well as the emphasis on personal freedoms are thoroughly consistent with a Christian worldview (even though many of our founders were, in fact deists at best or secular humanists at worst...but I digress)

I love the 4th of July. For purely sacrilegous reasons, it is probably my favorite holiday because it is simply the most fun. I love the fireworks, the bratwursts, and, most importantly, the pool party at my aunt Ruth's house every year that allows me to catch up with my dad's side of the family. For one day out of the year, I remember the sacrifice of those who fought for the freedom that I now enjoy and I feel very proud to be an American.

Here is my problem. I look for examples in the New Testament of Christians plotting revolutions to overthrow the Roman government, which was far more oppressive than the British government that our forefathers overthrew, and I find absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada. Not even a hint.

Think about it for a moment. Nero was one of the worst dictators in human history. At the Ripley's wax museum in Dallas, he is (or at least was when I was there)put right alongside Hitler as one of the most evil men that ever lived and yet, all we get from Peter is "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king."

If you look to find a revolutionary in Paul, much less Jesus, your search will come up dreadfully short. If you look to Paul for answers to how a Christian should relate to governing authorities, about all you are going to get is instruction to pay taxes, obey the laws of the land, and to pray for your leaders (Romans 13:1-7, I Timothy 2:1-3). In fact, it was Paul that told the Christian slaves of his day to obey their masters, and encouraged other Christians to aspire to lead a quiet life and to mind their own business (Colossians 3:22 and I Thessalonians 4:11). Not exactly Boston Tea Party material! I imagine if I were a patriot in the 18th century looking to overthrow the British government because of illegal search and seizures and taxation without representation, I think Peter and Paul would be the last people I would look to for inspiration.

And yet, in all of this, how many American Christians do you know that question the idea that our forefathers were acting out the will of God when they fought against the British? How many American Christians question the idea that God initiated the Revolutionary War?

Interesting question indeed. The flip side of the issue is that since the New Testament teaches that government is a God-ordained institution, it logically follows that it is not wrong for a Christian to serve as a policeman, congressman, military officer, or as a president of a country.

Hindsight can be a strange creature. I don't know too many people, including me, that would argue that the U.S.A should rejoin the British Commonwealth. Somehow I don't think the British want that either. Having said that, I think the question is still relevant...could it have happened another way or perhaps at another time?

12 comments:

Pete said...

Aaron,
I have read and studied this issue quite a bit recently and have personally seen that the American Revolution can be truthfully Biblically justified, whether or not God started it. I don't feel like typing all of my reasoning right now, but if you want, I can direct you towards the materials that helped me. It shouldn't be beyond our belief that God can start a war, because, after all, the hope that every Christian clings to is that one day He will start a war and He will most certainly finish it too!
Pete

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you for your comment Pete. I know that what I have written is something that probably very few American Christians would agree with. I'd love to look at some materials to see where your reasoning comes from, or perhaps a website.

I'd like to hear what Toby has to say on this issue. I think what I have written, giving attention to scriptural detail, at least deserves a careful hearing. If nothing else, what I have written should at least spur some thought on how Christian citizens of an oppresive government are supposed to live.

toby said...

i'm reading your stuff guys and it's very interesting. i have some thoughts in reponse to pete
s post on the masturbation question/article. and the topic of whether or not the revolutionary war was justified biblically is something i've never even though of, but it seems like a great topic.

however, if i don't respond immediately to some of your topics, it's not necessarily because i don't have anything to say, but i do have a lot of other things on my plate now. and if i write something, i like it to be somewhat coherent, and that can take some time for me.

aaron, your quote about no more mister nice blogger is funny and definitely welcome.

keep it up. it's great.

toby said...

from what i understand, the bible instructs us to obey the government unless the law of the land contradicts God's law. i really can't say whether or not it was a good idea or God's will for the States to fight back against Britain. i'm glad they did, though.

it may not be what you had in mind, but i don't really have an answer for that question. i agree with what you said regarding what scripture says about government. which brings me to a question that i have been kicking around lately.

was God against the institution of slavery?

the reason I ask this is because there are several examples in the OT where God gives laws on how to treat slaves. and as you mentioned, in the NT, paul actual told the slaves to obey their masters. yes, perhaps the idea of every believer being equal in Christ led to the abolition of slavery, but the interesting thing was it seems that God never condemned the institution.

now we may get hung up here if we have different definitions of slavery. it seems doubtful to me that God would ever approve of the many cruel atrocities that happened because of slavery. but if we're talking about indentured servants (wiki it) and/or slavery in which the slaves were treated decently (in a humane way), i don't remember reading any biblical disapproval of it (OT or NT).

please know that i'm not saying slavery is a good thing or that we should bring it back. like i said, many horrible things happened because of it. but most people probably think of this type of slavery when they hear the word without considering how things were done in Biblical times and what the Bible actually says or doesn't say about it.

Pete said...

What Toby said about slavery is right on. "Slavery" in the Biblical times was much more comparable to "employees" in modern times. The slavery that we abolished here in America had no Biblical support.

Here is an excerpt from some notes in one of my classes about the revolution. It does a decent job of summing things up. Sorry if it's too long Aaron.

"Here is the question I want you to consider: when do you resist a government? When do we, like the American founding fathers, throw off the mantle of government? Why do we not condone actions like blowing up abortion clinics?

Consider this passage:
Romans 13
Submission to the Authorities
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.




Does this mean we would have to accept Nazi law if we were in Germany?


Of course not. There are selections from the New Testament in which the apostles rejected the laws of the land:

Acts 5
27Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.”
29Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! 30The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”




The real key to understanding civil disobedience and Romans 13 is to determine if the purpose of opposition is simply to resist the institution of government in general (which would be anarchy and would promote a rebellious spirit), or if it is to specifically resist bad laws, bad acts, or bad governments.

If God’s authority is not contradicted by the laws of the land, we must respect them. While we may live in a society that permits and even endorses heinous acts, because we have legitimate, non-violent, non-rebellious means to express our desire for change, we cannot pursue anti-government actions.

Five conditions under which a Christian can resist government:
Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of peaceable resolution have been exhausted; 3) resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution."









So this leads us to our next debate: Were our Founding Fathers correct in choosing to rebel against England?

The Founders pursued peaceful reconciliation; it was Great Britain that terminated the discussions. After the separation had occurred--following years of peaceful entreaties--some British leaders specifically accused the Americans of anarchy and rebellion. To this charge, John Quincy Adams responded:

"[T]here was no anarchy....[T]he people of the North American union, and of its constituent States, were associated bodies of civilized men and Christians in a state of nature, but not of anarchy. They were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct."

Therefore, under the Framers' understanding of Romans 13, the American Revolution was not an act of anarchy or rebellion; rather it was an act of resistance to a government that violated the Biblical purposes for which God had ordained civil government.

The Founders believed they were legitimized in the American Revolution for two reasons:
1) The British government violated the biblical purposes for which God had ordained civil government
2) The Americans did not initiate the conflict

See page 329.



The second factor which the Framers believed gave them Biblical justification was the fact that they did not initiate the conflict. The Framers had been committed to peaceful reconciliation and had pursued that course for 11 years before the separation from Great Britain. There was no desire to raise arms against England, their mother country and the land of their birth.
Nevertheless, in the last two years of their peaceful reconciliation attempts (e.g., as in May 1776 with their Olive Branch Petition), their entreaties and appeals were met solely by military force. In fact, King George III dispatched 25,000 British troops to invade his own Colonies, enter into the homes of his own citizens, take their private possessions and goods, and imprison them without trials--all in violation of his own British common law, English Bill of Rights, and Magna Carta.
The Framers cited Biblical justification to defend their homes, families, and possessions. In their understanding of the Scriptures, God could bless a defensive war but not an offensive war. In fact, so reticent were they to separate from Great Britain that it was a full three years after King George III had sent armed troops against his own citizens in America before they announced their separation.
The fact that they had been attacked completely changed their perception of their status in the eyes of God, for the Bible justified self-defense against an aggressor"

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you Pete for your summary on the American Revolution. That definitely helps to put things in perspective, although it doesn't fully answer the questions I raised in my post. To say that the founders had a just cause doesn't necessarily address the issue of legitimate authority, nor does it address the issue of the fact that the Roman government was more oppressive than the British government and yet, neither Jesus nor Peter nor Paul ever told their followers to fight the Roman government. I am aware that there are many Christians who view Romans 13 as a criteria for what makes a government legitimate (as did the founders), concluding that if a government fails to execute its responsibility, then it must be overthrown. This argument fails to recognize that Romans 13 was written to Christians, not the Roman government.

Having said that, I wouldn't necessarily say the founders were wrong to ignite a revolution. I would, however, question the notion that it was a Christian war in the sense that those who fought were fighting for Christ. In my view, to think this way is a dangerous mixing of the Christian faith with nationalism, something I think Jesus would have us avoid.

When it is all said and done, the New Testament simply does not address the question of when it is right for people to overthrow an oppresive government. Why this is the case is up for debate and reflection.

Toby, I'll address the issue of slavery in another post.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Lest I be misunderstood, I thought what you wrote Pete, was excellent. What you have written at least shows me that the founders were familiar with the Augustinian Just War criteria. The idea that God would bless a defensive war, but not an offensive war shows a degree of sophistication in their thinking.

Pete said...

Aaron,
A few quick things.
1. Two of the main points for overthrowing a government were 3) resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of succes. Christians in the times when Paul wrote had almost zero organization and therefore would have created a vaccum if they overthrew the government ( very dangerous ) and the Roman empire was not going to be defeated by a minority group that called themselves christians. These two facts may be the reason that neither Jesus nor Paul push for revolution against the Romans.
2. I don't understand why it matters if Romans was written to the government or the people. How does sending it to the government make it more legitimate? They would simply burn his letter and order his execution. Why would it make more sense to send something that speaks of overthrowing the government to that very government? I assure you that they weren't going to overthrow themselves!
3. I've never assumed that the Revolutionary War was a Christian War and didn't realize that it was a popularly held belief, but if it is than I'm with you, it shouldn't be. It was a war for freedom not Christ.
4. I agree that there seem to be no exact rules for overthrowing a government, but the 5 rules in my notes seem to make the most sense to me and follow Biblical principles more closely than anything else I have seen. In the end though, I would suggest an enormous amount of prayer before ever undertaking something of such a magnitude!
Pete

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Pete,

It looks like the Five points you are studying is the Augustinian Just War criteria? Am I right?

You have to understand that I am not necessarily opposed to the idea that the American revolution was a just war. What I am opposed to is equating the war with the cause of Christ.

You say that you did not know that the idea that the Revolutionary war was a Christian war is a popularly held belief.

Are you kidding me?

Again, I appreciate your thoughts. I think all of us are being refined through this discussion.

marhaban said...

I found this site very interesting.


religion

It talks about the preachers and leaders who helped convice people that it was their Christian duty to fight tyranny ie England.

marhaban said...

I found this site very interesting.


religion

It gives the history of various religious leaders who convinced the masses that it was their Christian duty to fight tyranny, ie England.

Anonymous said...

God says "obey government" hmmmm lets look a little deeper with some common sense here shall we?

First of All we all know that the enemy is constantly trying to remove God ordained leaders out of both the government and the church, and he succeed daily in doing so. So open your gift of discernment when I say this but not all governments are "God ordained" just because they are the "government" its only the government that the lazy righteous have allowed to enter. It all must come to past and yes it is predestined because God already knows and has warned us how its all going to unfold, but the fact still remains that not all Government is God ordained but actually the works of darkness to control and deceive in convincing you that corrupt antichrist governments should be obeyed. The only reason why people think that all governments we see today are God ordained, is because reprobate mindsets have set in the majority and convinced that we must serve any and all governments that are placed in front of us. So either you see my point or you're a contradition to your own beliefs when this so called "God Ordained" governments create laws that enforce your servitude to the antichrist system, the mark of the beast and the enemies manipulation in government. So wake up Christians, and stand up for Truth, absolute morals, and common sense that is obviously no longer common! The only government I serve and obey is the laws of the land that are the laws of God, not the laws of man. The "laws of the land" are the "laws of God", not the laws man has set before you to control and deceive you! once again, WAKE UP! Use discernment, and make wise decisions when deciding what laws to obey and not to obey but the truth is, Obey God and be led by the spirit or you are already misled from the start without that leading!

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