Friday, July 01, 2011

Thoughts on the 4th

I was reading, again, the Declaration of Independence.

One observation I've often made, as a Lutheran Pastor commenting on the role of civil governments, is that Holy Scripture speaks more in terms of responsibilities than of rights. Perhaps we could even say it more forcefully; Holy Scripture nowhere speaks of our rights.

I suppose it's a matter of orientation. If I am concerned about how I am being treated, I consider my "rights". What I am owed. What belongs to me. If I am concerned, rather, how I should treat my neighbor - then it's not his rights, but my duty or responsibility that matters.

But having said that, what of the "inalienable rights" of the Declaration?

Life - certainly, it is our responsibility to uphold the sanctity of human life. The 5th commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Murder" and its many applications teach this plainly.

Liberty - less certain. While I cherish my freedoms, and would have more not less of them, I don't believe a biblical worldview sees freedom as the ultimate value it has become for American culture. In the Bible, we serve a master (or, one of two masters). And yet there is talk of freedom from sin, death and punishment in Christ. Absolute freedom, expressed as "Do as thou wilt", is the motto of Satanist Aleister Crowley, not the worldview of the Christian.

The Pursuit of Happiness - even less is Scripture concerned with happiness, per se. Still I am taught not to steal from my neighbor, or make his life bitter, but help him and serve him. I suppose restricting his pursuit of happiness could stand in the way of that. But sometimes loving one's neighbor means tough love, and making him un-happy. So this value isn't absolute for the Christian either. I've seen it argued that "the pursuit of happiness" actually means, primarily, property rights. And while Scripture affirms these, they are also not absolute. Much inspired ink is spilled warning about wealth and materialism. Jesus teaches us to pay taxes to Caesar.

The Declaration does say something interesting, also, regarding "self-evident" truths. These truths, these values, need no proof. They speak for themselves. It's obvious that they come from the Creator. (Oh, and so the document affirms Creation, as well!) I wonder how many today would agree with the idea of self-evident, universal moral principles. A Christian would say this is the Law of God written on the heart. A Christian knows "the heavens declare the glory of the Lord".

"All men are created equal" - here I'll quibble less. Equality of personhood, of value, of standing before God as a redeemed sinner bought by the blood of Christ, yes! But God also makes certain distinctions between people, not of value, but of calling. Sometimes a distinction of calling is cast as a devaluing of a person, which is never the case. All are created in the image of God; all have sinned and fall short, and are redeemed freely in Christ. But not all are called to be pastors, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, government officials, etc.

"Deriving their power from the consent of the governed". Romans 13 teaches that the government is an agent of God, not of the people. That the government official is a servant of God and of the people - to approve of what is good and to punish evil. Perhaps the consent of the governed - as a whole - is important to establish the legitimacy of a governmental authority, but the power derives from God.

I suppose it's analogous to the authority of the pastor. The authority derives from God, and yet is conferred through the church. The church must respect this authority, rightfully exercised. But a pastor is put out of office in cases of persistent false teaching, scandalous life, or neglect/abuse of office.

Does the long list of grievances, which makes up the bulk of the declaration, provide sufficient cause for the government's (the king's) "removal from office"?

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