Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The American Revolution vs. the Bible and Romans 13

Britain's own Glorious Revolution
of 1688 was a dry run for 1776
by Tom Van Dyke


Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.---Epistle to the Romans, 13:1

As for Romans 13 and "the meaning understood for 1600 years," let's be precise as to what "1600 years" means.

Leaving aside the long history of arguments that initiated with

---John of Salisbury in 1150 [his Policratus was universally read] through
---Aquinas and the Schoolmen [by what right does one man rule another?], through
---Jonathan Mayhew and other Founding era Protestant preachers and theologians,

let's look back to 1600s Britain: the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, to the thinkers like John Locke and Algernon Sidney who directly influenced the American colonials.

In short, 'twas all a dry run for the American revolution: Britain's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 brought peace to the land and resulted in the restoration of the monarchy with King William and Queen Mary. It came to two theological solutions:

1) It was wrong for the English Civil War to execute Charles I in 1649;

2) King James II "abdicated" when he fled to France in 1688, and so the Glorious Revolution's restoration of William and Mary to the throne made them rightful monarchs

The American Revolution [actually, they called it the "War with Britain" at the time] handled both these problems at the outset in the Declaration of Independence:
1) "When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..."

The American Revolution was no coup d'etat, no replacement of the head of state, as was the execution of Charles I. It was a separation of one people from another.

2) "He [King George III] has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us."


Abdicated. Theological problems solved, in the way that Britain had solved them nearly 100 years before. We may also add

3) that the Crown [William and Mary] accepted the primacy of Parliament when they accepted the throne. That was the deal.

So when the Declaration of Independence condemned the Crown---a personification of the British Government as its titular head of state

3) "For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent..."

"For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever."


...it announced that the deal between one people and another had been broken. And so, when the Declaration states

"Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us."

the British are now the colonists' "brethren," and parliament were not their masters or rulers, because by whatever right one man [parliament] had to rule over another [the colonies] was "unwarrantable jurisdiction" because of the lack of consent of the governed.

And so when the Declaration asserts

"They [Parliament] too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation..."


it's the end of "consanguinity," then, of being of the same blood, the same tribe. What had been one people was now two peoples: without a legislature of their own, or representation in the British parliament, the colonists were second-class citizens, and that meant they did not consider themselves citizens atall.

The Biblical argument against revolution is per Romans 13, which reads:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

and concludes

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Wherefore [ye] must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.


But the American colonists came to the same arguments as the British themselves before them, and found their way around and through Romans 13. It was a "separation," not a revolution, and as for the "higher powers," the Crown had abdicated, and the parliament, first among their equals, abrogated the colonists' rights as Englishmen.

It's said by some observers that the Continentals didn't talk about Romans 13 much. True perhaps, but I say Romans 13 was between the lines, every line. The colonists were conscientious men who wanted to do the right thing, before man and before God. And that's why the Declaration of Independence reads the way it does.

Hey, they didn't even cut off the King's head. Compared to the British themselves, the Americans were quite reasonable and decent about the whole thing.

8 comments:

jimmiraybob said...

It's said by some observers that the Continentals didn't talk about Romans 13 much. True perhaps, but I say Romans 13 was between the lines, every line.

Oddly enough, I just read this comment on the previous post:

Although we don't offer therapy here. Just the facts, ma'am, if you please.

I would agree that many of the colonists were likely conscientious men (and women too), but once again the assertion that 'THE colonists (fill in the blanks)' runs into the same problem as 'THE founders (fill in the blanks)'. It assumes a uniformity of character and purpose.

There were many motives and many constituencies and religious sensibilities and institutions were among them. It would help if there was evidence that Romans was taken up by the legislators in the pursuit of their rebellion/revolution*.

*Yes, this is what many if not most if not all of THE founders thought that they were engaged in and the evidence has been presented at this blog before in their own words. If you want to overthrow the perceived legitimacy of any given power you first have to show that the legitimacy doesn't exist. Religion does not have to come into play (and I'm not trying to make an argument that Christianity and church institutions had no role as a major constituency). To enumerate the "wrongs" of the previously legitimate authority is not necessarily "finding a way around and through Romans 13" as much as making a case to support the charge of abdication. And that's why the Declaration of Independence reads the way it does.

Note: I agree with you whole heartedly that not cutting off the King's head was a reasonable and decent non-act.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I know you can frame what the FFs DID as "separation" and "interposition" and try to make it fit with Calvinism and Romans 13.

However, it's important to note that they themselves SPECIFICALLY used the term REVOLUTION. Some terms like "Judeo-Christian," or "theistic rationalist," or even "Enlightenment" we tend to project back on to them as descriptive categories. "Revolution" is not one of those terms. Their utterances are replete with positive references to the term "revolution."

Tom Van Dyke said...

So was the "Glorious Revolution."

I admit the whole picture isn't---or can be---painted in this one post. However, we have to look back to the "divine right of kings" controversy of the 1600s, to Locke's refutation of Filmer's Patriarcha, etc., to see where this fits in.

That Romans 13 was unspoken in the Revolutionary era didn't mean they didn't acknowledge it implicitly in justifying their own revolution, just as the British did almost 100 years before. The arguments were well-known and well-fashioned by 1776, and the colonists followed the script.

King of Ireland said...

TVD stated:

"I admit the whole picture isn't---or can be---painted in this one post. However, we have to look back to the "divine right of kings" controversy of the 1600s, to Locke's refutation of Filmer's Patriarcha, etc., to see where this fits in."

Now we are heading down the right trail! People want to use Locke's philosophy and throw out his theology. Cannot do it. The "rationalist" wrote a commentary on the Bible that said Salvation is by faith for God's sake. How many "rationalists" have written commentaries verse by verse of several books of the Bible?

Tom,

I was going to start posting on this subject but if you are headed down this road I would rather you do it because you are more knowledgable of the History here. I would urge to read Gary Amos book for more insight to the Theology of all this.

Pinky said...

I want to thank Tom Van Dyke for helping me put together some of my ideas on a closely related subject that he is going to publish here for me.
.
In the meantime, I think we can get caught up in the details of what seems reasonable to us here in the twenty-first century when, what we are addressing is what seemed reasonable to those people back in the eighteenth century.
.
When a localized people are being controlled by outside forces and expected to give up what they consider to be inalienable rights, i.e,, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.", well, that's when you can have some very serious trouble.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom, et al,
I enjoyed this entry...

Separation comes about because we disagree. And disagreement is "natural" in an open and free society.

Some would use their power and understanding to enforce what they presume to be "right", where many diverse views are held. These should not be allowed to "lead" our nation, but they can lead in their "local groups"....

Tom Van Dyke said...

King, I ran across a Gary Amos essay awhile back and it agreed with my own studies and arguments. However, Amos is a creature of the right and is a hot button

http://groups.google.com/group/soc.history.war.us-revolution/msg/b8681a9057fedde7?q=buckeye%40exis.net+amos+rushdoony&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&rnum=3

so I didn't go further with him. He was associated with Pat Robertson's Regent University and isn't part of the academic "establishment," so I'd use him only as a compass and double check everything for myself.

[Which is a good idea with any "authority" anyway.]

So please, run with it, but with caution, and things being what they are in this hyperpartisan world, I wouldn't quote him directly, or you'll both be called deplorable right-wing teabaggers and some folks will refuse to listen to a word you say, no matter how factual.

And in fairness, some of the criticisms of Amos's scholarship I've run across might be accurate. I would use him as a guide to find the original sources, but like David Barton, it's wise to keep him at arm's length.

If not a barge-pole.

____________

Angie, the nation was designed that way, but the expansive "incorporation" of the 14th Amendment has created a trend where every village and hamlet must be brought down to the lowest common denominator that was the Constitution.

Or as Pinky puts it, "when a localized people are being controlled by outside forces..."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Ray Soller and I have had run ins with a co-author of Amos' named Richard Gardiner. Ray on SHMG and me on whether GW was an orthodox Christian and Peter Lillback's book on the matter.