restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Christians in Politics Must Stop Ignoring the Constitution!

 David Alan Black 

Yesterday I experienced a rare juxtaposing of ideas. I read the president’s speech at a large Dallas church, and I watched two videos on the life and martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was a clear reminder to me that anyone who confesses Jesus Christ as the one Word of God has set a clear, unmistakable, and unambiguous limit to the divine aspirations of the state, its supporters, and its ideas.

In his essay, “The Modern Threats to Religious Freedom: They Are Greater than One May Think,” William Anderson exposes the dangers awaiting America:

On the surface, it would seem that Christianity has never been stronger or more influential in this country. Not only are the president, attorney general, and other cabinet members and advisors open about their Christianity, but Christian books are on the best-seller lists and Christian popular music dominates the radio airwaves. However, for a long time, I have been intensely looking at the current scene and have concluded that (1) the political authorities have squarely targeted Christians and Christianity for harassment and are freely carrying out their agendas at the present time, (2) the historical legal protections in this country for Christianity have been eroded past the point of no return, (3) most Christians are clueless in understanding this situation, and (4) when Christians do happen to recognize dangers to practicing their faith, they tend to endorse legislative and political actions that in the long run will make things even worse for themselves and those Christians who will follow after them.

I couldn’t agree more. What we are witnessing in society today is nothing less than this sobering fact: other lords than Jesus Christ, other commands than His commands, are gaining power over us, offering themselves to us as redeemers, but they are proving to be the torturers of an unredeemed world.

According to the New Testament, the state is under the constant temptation to make itself absolute. When, therefore, the state takes on theonomous pretensions (as so clearly evident in the president’s speech), it does so only through its presumption of autonomy, which itself it based on its renunciation of its true dignity and authority given and confirmed through submission to God. Thus the greatest service the church can render the state is to ensure that it never perverts its authority. The “true” church always has a responsibility to ensure that there is a “true” state.

By reminding the state of God’s Kingdom, God’s commandments, and God’s righteousness, the church reminds it of its limits and at the same time tells the state what it simply cannot tell itself. It reminds the state that there are certain criteria for its actions that it cannot set for itself but are set by God’s Word. To these criteria, both rulers and ruled are subjected, and to these they are responsible—whether they are prepared to acknowledge this or not. This understanding of church-state relationships is one that gives to the church enormous responsibilities with regard to the state. As Bonhoeffer would say, it demands an uncompromising No to the Promethean efforts of a state that has lost its true dignity by presumptuously feigning autonomous authority. If the church is to be true to its calling, it must resist man’s trust in its own resources—yes, adamantly oppose it— for when linked to the self-aggrandizement of Kulturchristentum, such hubris can only lead to one thing, and that is disaster.

In 1795, Justice Patterson wrote:

What is a Constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established. The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people, and is the supreme law of the land; it is paramount to the power of the Legislature, and can be revoked or altered only by the authority that made it. The life-giving principle and the death-doing stroke must proceed from the same hand. What are Legislatures? Creatures of the Constitution; they owe their existence to the Constitution: they derive their powers from the Constitution: It is their commission; and, therefore, all their acts must be conformable to it, or else they will be void. The Constitution is the work or will of the People themselves, in their original, sovereign, and unlimited capacity. Law is the work or will of the Legislature in their derivative and subordinate capacity. The one is the work of the Creator, and the other of the Creature. The Constitution fixes limits to the exercise of legislative authority, and prescribes the orbit within which it must move. In short, gentlemen, the Constitution is the sun of the political system, around which all Legislative, Executive and Judicial bodies must revolve. 

The problem is that our federal Constitution is a dead letter to most politicians. Both liberals and conservatives ask, “Who’s going to control Big Brother?” instead of asking (as they should), “How can we get rid of Big Brother?” The only real difference between liberals and conservatives is that they tend to devise different plans on what to do with the power of the federal government. That’s why Republicans have failed to prevent the growth of the federal budget in recent years. They aren’t even faintly interested in controlling the expansion of the federal government, as the president’s speech shows. Neither liberal nor neoconservative politicians are willing to get to the heart of the issue—the question of the legitimate use of government power. Thus our politicians produce their plans and programs without ever being challenged on the immoral and unethical means they use.

In truth, the problem of the size of government is not really a political problem. It is a spiritual, moral, and ethical one. Christians have a Scriptural obligation to help the needy, but the solution to the problem of human need is not the intervention and compulsive agency of the state to improve the outward economic circumstances of the poor. There is nothing “compassionate” about “compassionate conservatism” when hard-working people are literally robbed of their incomes to help others. To advocate such an approach is to deny the clear teaching of God’s Word because it abandons the gracious character of Christian charity.

When the state oversteps its authority, we must call for a return to the law of God as the supreme and sole standard for determining the legitimate function of government. This means (among other things) that political conservatives and evangelical Christians must acknowledge that they have promoted ethically commendable goals by unethical means in calling upon the state to exercise its power of compulsion where there is no biblical warrant for it. In the name of “ethics,” we have unethically disregarded the proper separation of church and state by transferring to the state the obligations that God has laid upon His church. We have overlooked the fact that the Founding Fathers designed our system of government in the form of a constitutionally limited republic with minimum government control or interference into our personal lives and business affairs. We forget that government at all levels—federal, state and local—was originally intended to be controlled by the people, that the Constitution explicitly restricts the power of the federal government, and that the Bill of Rights guarantees that the government may not infringe on our God-given unalienable rights.

As long as Americans remain intent on ignoring the bedrock document of American political history, Chuck Baldwin’s words will ring true: Patriotism is more than waving a flag and beating war drums. Patriotism involves reverence and submission to the laws and principles contained in our Constitution and in our heritage. It does not mean blindly following a politician—any politician! Patriotism also demands that the American people hold their elected leaders accountable to the Constitution.”

October 31, 2003

David Alan Black is the editor of He is currently finishing his latest book, Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.

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