Certain Inalienable Rights…

 

The 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, famously asserts:

 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."

 

On this topic, that popular and fast growing Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia, says,

 

"The concept of inalienable rights originates from the concept of natural rights formulated during the classical liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries. Classical Liberal thinkers reasoned that each man is endowed with (God-given) rights, most importantly, the right to life and the right to liberty. However, they reasoned that the natural state of absolute freedom causes anarchy. Eventually each individual forms an implicit social contract, ceding his or her right to the authority to protect his or her right from being abused. For this reason, almost all classical liberal thinkers, for example, accepted the death penalty and incarceration as necessary elements of government. However, some argued against slavery because there is no way a person can consent to being enslaved in exchange for protection. Consequently, the classical liberals reasoned that people have the right to rebel against tyrants who arbitrarily abuse natural rights.

 

Criticism: The concept of natural rights played important roles in the justifications for both the French and American Revolutions. 17th-century philosopher John Locke discussed natural rights in his work, and identified them as being "life, liberty, and estate (or property)".

 

Derivation of inalienable rights from Natural Law can also be criticized on solely philosophical grounds. The naturalistic fallacy of David Hume, which is discussed at length in G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica, is the derivation of an "ought" statement from "is" statements with no "ought" premise. Jonathan Wallace claims in his paper "Natural Rights Don't Exist," that the phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident" is simply a "more elegant version of 'Because we said so.'"

 

In "The Social Contract," Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that the existence of inalienable rights is unnecessary for the existence of a constitution or a set of laws and rights. This idea of a social contract – that rights and responsibilities are derived from a consensual contract between the government and the people – is the most widely recognized alternative. However, this has likewise come under the criticism that 1) it identifies the state as an abstract being without limits or accountability, rather than an actual person or persons, and 2) it denies persons born under this "social contract" the right to give or deny their consent to its dictates, but instead may subordinate rights which are held to be otherwise "inalienable" such as life and liberty (as in the case of conscription). Samuel P. Huntington, an American political scientist, wrote that the "inalienable rights" argument from the Declaration of Independence was necessary because "The British were white, English, and Protestant, just as we were. They had to have some other basis on which to justify independence." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inalienable_rights).

 

Lurking behind the Bill of Rights is the assumption that anarchy prevails when there is no government at all, that  ordinary men will often take advantage of their neighbors when they can, putting their own "rights" above the rights of others, above the good of society--and most importantly ignoring the clear standards of God much of the time.

 

Anyone who knows the Bible at all will immediately recognize that God does not give all men equal rights--especially so that they can go about freely pursuing their own selfish lives, their own liberty at the expense of others, and the pursuit of their own "devil may care" personal happiness!

 

Half a century ago the term "rights" meant mostly "civil-rights" and the needed reforms which followed were surely a good thing. These days most Americans live these days as if they had a right to do anything they please with few constraints. Ignoring what God might think about lifestyles, we now have the right to abort unwanted children, which follows closely on the heels of the supposed right of "consenting adults" to have sex with anyone they please. (Marriage is out of date and archaic and doesn't work anyway). Insistence upon gay rights has been followed by the supposed right to gay "marriage." What is next? God only knows!

 

The founding fathers certainly recognized that an orderly society can not exist when citizens live autonomously, ignoring the common good with everyone being his or her own god. Furthermore, our forefathers took for granted that there existed an underlying moral natural law in the universe. That is, there were moral absolutes operating in the world which we disregarded only at our peril. (Natural law is a vast subject of philosophy, for starters see: http://www.jim.com/rights.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law, http://www.iep.utm.edu/n/natlaw.htm).

 

The subject of human rights is not directly discussed in the Bible. We are house guests in Someone else's universe and our "right" to live even another day is completely dependent upon God's mercy, grace and kindness. God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance, says Paul in Romans.

 

Historically the nations one sees in the Old Testament usually reflected the values of their original family chieftain. Edom was like Esau, The Canaanites became like their forefather Canaan, grandson of Ham, and so on. After the Flood of Noah tribal rule by heads of families was replaced by God-given governments and national boundaries "instituted among men".

 

"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor." (Romans 13:1-7)

 

The purposes of governments in the world are not redemptive. Moral reforms are supposed to be the work of the church of Jesus Christ. Government restrains and punishes evil, making everyday life bearable.

 

Our default to "civil religion" leads us to expect new laws and better government to correct things that are wrong in society. But as God sees it, the church of Jesus Christ is intended to be the "secret government" of planet earth. (See The Most Powerful Force on Earth, http://raystedman.org/bodylife/body01.html). Governments have been placed in the world to bring law and order, to reflect the just character of God, and to reward good citizenship and meritorious behavior. But only one group of people in the world has the power and resources to alter the status quo. The church alone has been given an understanding of the root problems of mankind, and God's powerful solutions to these problems. The world remains completely in the dark about these matters! Schools can not transform human nature. Medical science can not cure original sin which is the reason people grow sick and die. World religions do not impart eternal life nor can they forgive sin nor heal the inner man. Improving the economic situation of the poor, reducing unemployment, or raising health standards does not change the human heart. Only the true church can do this! In addition to all this responsibility here and now, God expects the church to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3) and ultimately the world as well (1 Corinthians 6:2)! (see God's Strange Servants, http://raystedman.org/romans2/3532.html).

 

Israel alone was chosen to be God's model nation under God by special covenant. While God's purposes for Israel are not yet fulfilled, we live these days in "the times of the gentiles" when the nations of world jostle and joust on the world stage--generally in opposition to God.

 

Psalm 2 gives us God's long term point of view on the constant strife between nations in Psalm 2--and how it will end:

 

Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing?

 The kings of the earth set themselves,

And the rulers take counsel together,

Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,

 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces

And cast away Their cords from us.”

 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;

The LORD shall hold them in derision.

 Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,

And distress them in His deep displeasure:

 “Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.”

 “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me,

‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.

 Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance,

And the ends of the earth for Your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron;

You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”

 Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth.

 Serve the LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way,

When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

 

In Daniel Chapters 2, and 7, the Lord gives us very clear pictures of the succession of world powers from 586 BC-- down to the time Christ will return to set up His kingdom on the planet. Christ's plan will not be one of moral reform, talking the best from every nation, but a compete replacement of all aspects of human government with the theocracy of heaven. Furthermore, democracy is not the best form of government for mankind--it is the weakest and least efficient, as Daniel makes clear.

 

In a very timely new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, (Zondervan 2005), Gregory A. Boyd argues for clear distinctions between the kingdoms of this world and the coming Kingdom of God on earth. Regardless of where we live in the world, regardless of the form of government over us, we Christians are called to live by the standards of the Kingdom of God which Jesus taught us. Boyd says,

 

IS AMERICA, OR WAS IT EVER, A THEOCRACY?

 

The first conceptual problem is that there is no reason to believe America ever was a theocracy. Unlike Israel, we have no biblical or empirical reason to believe God ever intended to be king over America in any unique sense. True, some of those who were part of the original European conquest of this continent claimed this, but why believe they were right?

 

Undoubtedly, part of the reason evangelicals accept this claim is the fact that fallen humans have always tended to fuse religious and nationalistic and tribal interests. We want to believe that God is on our side, supports our causes, protects our interests, and ensures our victories--which, in one form or another, is precisely what most of our nationalistic enemies also believe. So it has been for most people throughout history.

 

Related to this, fallen humans have a strong tendency to divinize our own values, especially those most dear to us...If something is important to us, we reason, then it must be important to God. Hence, we must in some sense be special to God for agreeing with him Since political freedom is dear to American evangelicals, it seems obvious to them that it must also be dear to God. Indeed, it seems clear to many that God uniquely established America and leads America for the express purpose of promoting this supreme value around the globe.

 

Now, we may (or may not) grant that it's "self-evident" that political freedom is the most precious thing a government can give its people. We may (or may not) think it would he good if every version of the kingdom of the world espoused this value. But on what basis can a follower of Jesus claim this is obviously a supreme value for God? Political freedom certainly wasn't a value emphasized by Jesus, for he never addressed the topic. He and various New Testament authors speak about freedom from sin, fear, and the Devil, but show no interest in political freedom.

 

In fact, until very recently, political freedom wasn't a value ever espoused by the church. To the contrary, most branches of the church resisted the idea that people can govern themselves when it first began to be espoused in the Enlightenment period. Yet now, quite suddenly, it's supposedly a preeminent Christian value--to the point of justifying the view that America is uniquely established and led by God because it emphasizes this value! And this many contemporary evangelicals regard as obvious!

 

This is an amazing and significant new twist on the Christian religion. Indeed, it arguably constitutes a new nationalistic religion--what we might call 'the religion of American democracy." Like all religions, this religion has its own distinctive, theologized, revisionist history (for instance, the "manifest destiny" doctrine whereby God destined Europeans to conquer the land). It has its own distinctive message of salvation (political freedom), its own "set apart" people group (America and its allies), its own creed ("we hold these truths to be self-evident"), its own distinctive enemies (all who resist freedom and who are against America), its own distinctive symbol (the flag), and its own distinctive god (the national deity we are "under," who favoring our causes and helps us win our battles). This nationalistic religion co-opts Christian rhetoric, but it in fact has nothing to do with real Christianity, for it has nothing to do with the kingdom of God.

 

Not only is the supreme value of this new nationalistic religion (political freedom) not espoused in Scripture, as we've said, but the Calvary-quality love that is the supreme value espoused by the New Testament is impossible to live out consistently if one is also aligned with this nationalistic religion. Among other things, the nationalistic religion is founded on individual self-interest--the "right" to political freedom--whereas the kingdom of God is centered on self-sacrifice, replicating Calvary to all people at all times. Moreover, because it is a nationalistic religion, the religion of political freedom must use "power over" to protect and advance itself As we have seen, however, the kingdom of God planted by and modeled by Jesus uses only "power under" to advance itself, and it does not protect itself by force. It is impossible to imitate Jesus, dying on the cross for those who crucified him, while at the same time killing people on the grounds that they are against political freedom. It is impossible to love your enemies and bless those who persecute you, while at the same time defending your right to political freedom by killing those who threaten you….

 

The danger of kingdom people taking the slogan "one nation under God" too seriously is that we set ourselves up for idolatrous compromise. We may judge that God wants all people to be politically free. We may believe that to this extent God approves of America. But we have no grounds for thinking that America is for this reason a nation that is more "under God" than any other nation. As in all nations, God is working in America to further law and order as much as possible, and, as with all nations, America is under the strong corrupting influence of demonic powers. So while we may agree that the "one nation under God" slogan serves a useful civil function, as kingdom people we must never take it too seriously. The only people who can he meaningfully said to he "under God" in a kingdom-of-God way are those who are in fact manifesting the reign of God by mimicking Jesus' love expressed on Calvary (Ephesians 5:1-2).

 

Boyd calls attention to the enormous influence a handful of Christians had in the Roman Empire up until the union of church and state under Constantine in 313 AD. He notes that Augustine, and many other church leaders who followed, failed to bring the church back to her original calling to be a collection of simple pilgrims living as temporary exiles in enemy-held territory.

 

Today Christianity in America has been largely absorbed by the world--and almost completely marginalized as well. But the world and its kingdoms are ruled over by Satan--the "god of this world." And, the world-system is in fierce opposition to the kingdom of God. The coming in of the Kingdom of Jesus on earth will involve horrific violence and a terrible time of trouble. 

 

"Enemy-occupied territory -- that is what the world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage." (C.S. Lewis)

 

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened." (Jesus, Matthew 24:21-22)

 

“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:24-31, Paul to the Athenians on Mars Hill).

 

George Barna's surveys of life in America today are most revealing:

 

Often described as “the most religious people on earth,” most Americans “feel accepted by God” (88%), see themselves as “deeply spiritual” (62%) and believe they can be accurately described as “a fulltime servant of God” (59%).

 

Americans describe their personal faith in various ways. While more than eight out of ten (84%) view themselves as Christian, a lesser but significant majority label themselves as a “committed Christian” (60%). Within that framework, people’s self-identity includes 45% who call themselves a “born again Christian,” 42% who claim to be an “evangelical Christian” and one out of four who adopt the label “charismatic or Pentecostal Christian” (26%).

 

The survey also highlighted the fact that people who are in the born again constituency (based upon their beliefs, rather than their self-identification) are less likely than atheists to be social activists (42% of atheists claimed that label, compared to just 29% of born again adults and only 20% of evangelicals). Despite their activism, though, atheists emerged as being less clear about their purpose in life and less likely to feel at peace. Not surprisingly, they were also considerably less concerned about the moral condition of the country. (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=243).

 

The Myth of a Christian Nation does not address all the complex issues of our calling as Christians to be separate from the world living kingdom life-styles. But Gregory Boyd's book is surely a much needed wake-up call for all of us who wish to follow Jesus, leaving behind the many deceptions and false promises of the kingdoms of this world.

 

Boyd concludes,

 

What if We Did the Kingdom?

 

What if the energy and resources used to preserve and tweak the civil religion was rather spent feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, befriending the drug addict, and visiting the prisoner? What if our focus was on sacrificing our resources to help inner city schools and safety houses for battered women? What if our concern was to bridge the ungodly racial gap in our country by developing friendships and collaborating in endeavors with people whose ethnicity is different than our own? What if instead of trying to defend our religious rights, Christians concerned themselves with siding with others whose rights are routinely trampled? What if instead of trying to legally make life more difficult for gays, we worried only about how we could affirm their unsurpassable worth in service to them?

 

In other words, what if we individually and collectively committed ourselves to the one thing that is needful--to replicating the loving sacrifice of Calvary to all people, at all times, in all places, regardless of their circumstances or merit? What if we just did the kingdom?

 

This is far more difficult than merely protecting the civil religion, which perhaps partly explains why so many prefer focusing on the civil religion. Doing the kingdom always requires that we bleed for others, and for just this reason, doing the kingdom accomplishes something kingdom-of-the-world activity can never accomplish. It may not immediately adjust people's behavior, but this is not what it seeks to accomplish. Rather, it transforms people's hearts and therefore transforms society.

 

The Apostle Paul urges us,

 

Brothers, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame--who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." (Philippians 3:17-21)

 

9/03/06

 

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lambert@ldolphin.org