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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Runnymede, Romans & Revolution

Earlier this year, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Runnymede, about 40 miles west of London. It was in the year of our Lord, 1215, that English King John sealed the Magna Carta on the plain at Runnymede. The signing or acceptance of the Magna Carta by King John was the foundational basis of a government of law, not the arbitrary rule of a monarch. It was a landmark event in the chronology of efforts to secure individual freedom. It was an early building block that helped to inspire the creation of the American Republic more than 500 years later. The Magna Carta took that first small step in establishing the principle that those in government are servants of the people, not the other way around. The Crown was, from this point forward, as much as could be enforced, under the law, not above it. It was the Magna Carta, officially enacted into law in 1225, that established the foundation and principle of the rule of law. It guaranteed to Englishmen their rights as free citizens. The principle established was that no citizen of England was above the law, not even the King. The foundation of human freedom had been laid.

The King did not, of course, volunteer to surrender his power over the lives of Englishmen, but was forced to do so by powerful English barons who sought to limit his powers. Of course, those with political power never willingly reduce their powers over the lives of others. In fact, they always seek to expand their power over others under the guise of providing help and assistance. The end result is always the same, less freedom for the individual and more power for the government bureaucrats and politicians. And as big government programs like Obamacare are enacted the politicians become once again rulers and masters of the people, not their servants as the American Founders intended. It is the Founder’s view turned upside down.

When the Pilgrims left England for the New World they brought with them the Massachusetts Bay Company charter that stated the colonists would “have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects.” Similarly, the Virginia Charter stated that the colonists would have all “liberties, franchises and immunities” as if they had been born in England. The colonies that came later followed their example.

America’s Founders were well aware of their rights as Englishmen as guaranteed under the Magna Carta. In fact, they were proud to be English and were loyal English citizens. And while they issued a Declaration of Independence from England on July 4, 1776 it was in reality King George III who dissolved the bond between the colonies and England when he violated the Magna Carta by treating the Colonists as less than English citizens. When he denied the Colonists their rights as Englishmen he put himself above the law and thereby took himself outside the law. He effectively delegitimized his authority over the American colonists.

The Founders did not issue their Declaration of Independence without a great deal of deliberation and concern. These were well read men and the book they relied upon the most was the Bible. Nearly half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had attended a Christian seminary. The vast majority of the rest professed to be followers of the Christian faith. As Bible students they were well aware of Saint Paul’s admonition in regard to government as written in the book of Romans, Chapter 13…
1Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn't been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God. 2Therefore, whoever resists the government opposes what God has established. Those who resist will bring punishment on themselves. 3People who do what is right don't have to be afraid of the government. But people who do what is wrong should be afraid of it. Would you like to live without being afraid of the government? Do what is right, and it will praise you. 4The government is God's servant working for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid. The government has the right to carry out the death sentence. It is God's servant, an avenger to execute God's anger on anyone who does what is wrong. 5Therefore, it is necessary for you to obey, not only because you're afraid of God's anger but also because of your own conscience. 6That is also why you pay your taxes. People in the government are God's servants while they do the work he has given them. 7Pay everyone whatever you owe them. If you owe taxes, pay them. If you owe tolls, pay them. If you owe someone respect, respect that person. If you owe someone honor, honor that person.

Paul’s command is very unambiguous, so how did these Christian believers justify issuing a Declaration of Independence from England and from King George III in particular? After all, Paul wrote Romans 13: 1-7 at the time Nero sat on the throne of Rome. It is hard to imagine a more vicious, more tyranical ruler than Nero. If Christians were to obey the Godless Nero, then shouldn’t they have obeyed the British King, no matter how corrupt and oppressive it was? Certainly the signers of the Declaration of Independence must have agonized over their decision go forward with their Declaration.

One would certainly not have to go through the convoluted reasoning of Chief Justice John Roberts went through to rationalize Obamacare as within the US Constitution to justify such a Declaration. If in fact the Magna Carta established the rule of law and put the law above the King rather than the King above the law, then it was clearly King George III who dissolved the ties to the England, not the Colonists. It was King George III who violated Romans 13 when he refused to submit himself to the Magna Carta. After all a government of laws means that the law is superior to any man and that those in office are servants and those who elect them are their masters. The Colonists did not, of course, elect the King, but neither was the King above the law. When he violated the Magna Carta, he dissolved the political bond that existed between England and the American Colonialists.

The Founders made their case in the Declaration of Independence states…
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal [under the law], 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…”

The Founders assert, on the basis of the Magna Carta, that the King’s powers are derived “from the consent of the governed.” In other words, if the King goes beyond the Magna Carta or violates the Magna Carta he has dissolved his own powers.

After issuing the Declaration of Independence the Americans sought to create a new government wherein the law was firmly established to be above the leaders. The leaders were to be public servants and the people were the masters. That is the way it is supposed to be today. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Congressman and bureaucrats of various stripes and origins are servants, not masters. They derive their powers from the “consent of the governed”—you and me.

The government has no legitimate power except that granted to it by its citizens. It has no wealth except that which it provided it through the labor, risk, innovation and hard work of those who produce goods and services. The money that it issues represents the wealth of those of its citizens who produce those goods and services. The land that the government “owns” is the property of the people, not of government itself. The value of that land was purchased with dollars representing the wealth of private citizens.

This week we celebrate the American Revolution, a grand and glorious event that had its origin in the Founders of our nation. They were men of great courage, great foresight and great understanding. They were wise because their wisdom originated with the Bible, the source of all true wisdom. It was not a matter of their education or their intelligence that enabled them to create a new form of government entirely new in the annals of history. It was their understanding of human nature, which they derived from reading the Bible, that gave them the wisdom to limit the power of government over the lives of its citizens.

But crafty, evil by nature men have, over the period of more than 225 years, sought to undermine the wisdom of the Founders. Instead of understanding human nature and the importance of limiting government power, they seek to expand government power and thus toy with tyranny. The America our Founders envisioned and tried to establish was one that limited the power of government over the individual. It was a nation that valued freedom over the enslavement of government. It was a republic that was designed not to do things for its citizens, but to let them live free to seek their dreams and to fail and succeed as their hard work, innovation, skills and God’s blessings allowed them.

It was this dream that drew millions around the globe to its torch of freedom. It was freedom that allowed God fearing people to enjoy a degree of human freedom never before enjoyed in the history of the world. And it was the Bill of Rights that kept government from stealing their freedom.

This is the America that the Founder’s strived for, and yet today, there are those who put their hopes in government to do things for them—to provide for their retirement, to provide for their health care, to choose what food they shall eat, to choose what car they shall drive, to decide where the fruits of their labors shall be spent. And, of course, those in government are all too willing to accommodate them as they steal their freedom bit by bit, turning the land of liberty into but a fading shadow of the dream of the Founders.

This year, may we not only celebrate the bold fidelity of our Founders in striving for freedom, but also re-dedicate ourselves to their dream of limited government and maximum individual freedom. May God grant us the wisdom, the determination, and the perseverance we need to turn the tide on those who would enslave us. Happy Independence Day!

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