There is much debate today about whether or not the men who assembled at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 had the biblical authority to formally enter a state of rebellion against their Romans 13 governing authority who lay across the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Most people never read this part of the Declaration of Independence:
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
These words reveal to us that these men most certainly did not take what they were doing lightly. Their words indicate that they not only didn’t take it lightly, they reminded us that experience showed that most of the time the people would suffer long and hard before trying to “right things.” History shows us that the founders in this era most certainly did long suffer before arriving at this point and had exhausted every means before them.
Without going into a long discourse of the meaning of the applicable passage in Romans 13 pertaining to civil government, suffice it to say that the command “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1) is no more of an absolute command than is the command for a wife to be subject to her husband (Eph 5:22). It is a general command. Using Romans 13 to prove a tyrants’ claim that Christians must give absolute and total submission to civil government is like using Ephesians 5:22 to prove that a guy can beat his wife into submission.
There is much more that can be said concerning the proper interpretation of the Romans 13 civil government passage but for the purposes of this article/blog/post I’ll leave it with the mention that Romans 13:1-4 ranks among the most misinterpreted and ripped out of context passages in scripture. Verse 4 is hardly ever read when this is taught and is the verse that gives us context. It is the verse that exposes part of God’s design for civil government, the fact that civil government under God’s design is for the good of people. The founders understood this:
“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, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”. (See Deuteronomy 1:13 for God’s design of self-government).
Civil government under our founding charter is designed to perform a very limited and God ordained function.
Today, some of my conservative friends are too quick to repeat the part of the Declaration that explains the need for the founders rebellion:
“whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…”
Let us remember that these men had exhausted all other recourse. For decades they had petitioned the crown for redress and were met with nothing but more tyranny. They had no recourse under a “rule of law”.
That is not the case today. When the framers of the United States Constitution met in Philadelphia in the hot summer of 1787 to revise America’s first governing document (the Articles of Confederation) they completely understood the tyranny that they had come from under the crown of England. They designed a system of federal civil government that would place all of the government under a “Rule of Law” rather than the Rule of Men. Understanding the biblical doctrine of the depravity of man, they designed a system of separating and dividing powers. They instituted mechanisms of redress for the people and the states to affect change if defects in the governing document were discovered. They gave us an incredible document in our United States Constitution, a system of government closely aligned with biblical precept and truth under which liberty could flourish and potential government tyranny could be checked.
The United States Constitution, although an incredible document, is not perfect. It never has been perfect. It was designed by fallible men. Thank God for the prescience and wisdom of these men to insert a lawful, peaceful mechanism under which to affect change when defects were discovered. Indeed, we fixed the defect a defect in the life and liberty that was to be protected; the 13th Amendment made human enslavement unconstitutional. We fixed another liberty defect with the 18th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Today, we have all kinds of lawful recourse built into our system of civil government that the founders did not have. They had no recourse under the Rule of Law. We do. How dare we use rhetoric advocating going outside the Rule of Law before exhausting all recourse under the Rule of Law?
Article V of the Constitution directly empowers the people acting through their state legislatures to affect change to the federal government. It’s time we understand and embrace the lawful, peaceful, and constitutional recourse given to us by the framers.