Authority: Problems for Men Holding Office in the State Part 1

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Authority. Click here to see the entire series.

To hold an authoritative office in the United States requires the swearing of an oath.  This is a good thing.  The fact that an oath must be sworn to hold office in the state illustrates that there is some level of understanding that the state is a representative institution.  A major problem comes up, however, when the contents of that sworn oath are considered.  God has given specific, written instructions for the form and function of the state.  In the United States, the specific instructions of God have been thrown to the side and replaced with a document called the Constitution.  If the Constitution had been based upon God’s specific instructions in the Bible there would be no problem with a Christian swearing an oath to uphold it.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Most citizens of the United States have probably never read the US Constitution.  Most Christians in the US have probably never read the US Constitution.  That is an unfortunate state of affairs.  The US Constitution is important to Christians because it forms the theoretical framework by which law and citizenship are determined.  It does not matter that the Constitution is routinely ignored by the current administration of the federal government.  What does matter is that the Constitution is the official document that anyone who wishes to become a part of the political system must swear an oath to uphold.  This “political system” includes, but is not limited to:  judges, lawyers, politicians at all levels of government, those in military service,  naturalized citizens, and those who serve on juries.  Any Christian who desires to serve in any capacity that requires the taking of an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States needs to consider the argument that follows.

It surprises many Christians to learn that God has an opinion about swearing oaths or vows.  It is found in Deuteronomy 23: 21-23 which says, “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you.  However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you.  You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised.”

In this passage it can be clearly seen that a vow is a voluntary thing.  It is not a sin to refrain from making a vow.  However, if you decide to swear a vow, you must perform and do everything that was promised in the vow, even if it is to your own hurt.  Ecclesiastes 5: 4-5 says pretty much the same thing, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools.  Pay what you vow!  It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith (a confessional document of many Reformed and Presbyterian churches) has an accurate understanding of the proper use of vows and oaths.  In Chapter 22 it has the following things to say:  “A lawful oath is a part of religious worship…The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear…Whosoever takes an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and to swear to nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth…In matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God under the New Testament as well as under the Old; so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in such matters ought to be taken….Neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just…No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God.”

When the authors of the WCF spoke about “lawful authorities” imposing an oath, they were speaking of the elders of the Church and the civil magistrate.  These two covenantal authorities represent God to the world in distinct fashions.  As we have seen, Romans 13 describes how the State is the Minister of God and is properly considered to be a lawful authority that can require the swearing of an oath.

For our purposes here the phrase “neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just… no man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God” is most important.  When a Christian makes the decision to engage in an activity or a profession that requires the swearing of an oath to the biblically legitimate civil authority, the question must be asked if the contents of that sworn oath are “good and just”.  In other words, is the oath that you are swearing consistent with biblical truth or does it put you in the position of swearing an oath to uphold particular items or an entire system that is contrary to the Bible?  In light of the gravity of the situation it would make sense to consider the teachings of the Constitution of the United States in light of the Word of God.

1.  The US Constitution begins with this statement:  “We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

God says this in Romans 13:1, “…For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

We see that in the very first sentence of the Constitution we have a contradiction with Scripture.  The Constitution clearly asserts that sovereign authority and power is vested in the individual citizens of the United States.  As we have seen,  the Constitution clearly asserts that power and authority flow upwards from the people to their elected representatives; the representatives serve at the will of the People and they derive their power and authority from the will of the People.

God says that there is no authority except from Him.  God says that His authority flows from Himself down to his covenantal representatives  (in this particular case, the civil magistrate or State).  The Constitution says that the People “establish” the government of the US; God says that He “establishes”  the government of the US.

The distinction that I am making here is not trivial.  By starting with the wrong starting point, it is inevitable that the US Constitution is going to end up in the wrong place.  By ignoring or denying the claim of God in the establishment of the United States, the Constitution places itself squarely against that which is good and just and opens the door to requiring the swearing of an oath to that which is contrary to the Word of God.

2.  Article 1, Section 1 says:  “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States”

The very first point of the Constitution already departs from the Word of God by granting the power to make law to man; in particular to the Congress of the United States. Rather than submitting to the Law of God contained in the Bible, the United States is founded upon the creation of its own law by means of natural law and human reason.  The specific, written instructions given by God to the State are cast aside.

God says this in Ezra 7: 23-26, “Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, lest there be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons….And you Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges that they may judge all the people who are in the province beyond the River, even all those who know the laws of your God; and you may teach anyone who is ignorant of them…And whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon him strictly.

God says:  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  In theory, the Bible is sufficient for all matters that Christians will confront during the course of their lives.  In theory, the Bible tells Christian magistrates how they are to judge.  If the Bible is sufficient for all matters of faith and practice, why is it necessary to have a legislative branch of federal government?  This question is answered by R.J. Rushdoony in his book “The Institutes of Biblical Law” where he says:

“Law in every society is religious in origin.  Because law governs man and society, because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness, law is inescapably religious….It must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society….there can be no tolerance in a law-system for another religion.  Toleration is a device used to introduce a new law-system as a prelude to a new intolerance.”

The Constitution of the US declares the People to be the source of law because the People are the god of the US.  The law system of the US will not tolerate another god, much less the true and living God, so the Constitution must be written so as to render the God of the Bible irrelevant and to ordain the State (in the name of the “People”) as the true god of the land.  What will be seen in many of the individual points that follow is how the Word of God is summarily ignored in the establishment of the US Constitutional republic.

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