What makes nations thrive?
In the previous post we highlighted six principles that lay under the founding of America. Today’s offering comprises the other four.
7. The Rule of Law
Because all people are sinners, a healthy society requires the rule of law. The Bible reveals a just God who built the universe on laws and who shows no partiality. To prosper, societies must be built on the rule of law.
The founding fathers of the United States, whose ancestors lived in societies that practiced the “divine right of kings,” implemented the rule of law. Presidents and legislatures must obey any law they make. Citizens are to abide by the civil law, but God’s universal moral law (exhibited in the Ten Commandments) is higher. If the state calls us to violate God’s law, resistance (civil disobedience) is not only allowed but required.
New England pastor Jonathan Mayhew preached a sermon in 1750 that would represent the thinking of the American founders:
No civil rulers are to be obeyed when they enjoin things that are inconsistent with the commands of God: All such disobedience is lawful and glorious. … All commands running counter to the declared will of the supreme legislator of heaven and earth, are null and void: And therefore disobedience to them is a duty, not a crime.
From a Birmingham jail, Baptist pastor and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–68) wrote one of the clearest rationales for civil disobedience:
One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. … One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
In the 21st century, the foundations of law and liberty have been undermined.
The rule of law contradicts the arbitrary absolutes of modern political correctness. Are we willing to obey just laws and disobey unjust ones?
God has ordained three institutions founded on the concept of covenant: family, church, and civil government. A covenant binds the relationship and functions with the force of law.
This covenant concept was applied to American government through something called “the consent of the governed.” The Declaration of Independence asserts “that to secure these rights [to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (emphasis added).
The first American covenant was the Mayflower Compact of November 1620, which founded Plymouth Colony. The signers pledged to “solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and of one another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic.”
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are not secular documents derived from an atheistic enlightenment, but compacts patterned on biblical covenants between God and his people. A covenantal relationship of consent among the governed stands in contrast to the state or the church as sovereign over the affairs of men and also to the anarchy of each man doing what is right in his own eyes. The concept of covenant relationships is one of the significant distinguishing factors between the United States and many nations.
9. Work Ethic
Before the Protestant Reformation, all the world’s nations were poor. A small ruling class was wealthy; all others were indentured servants and slaves. Work was seen as a curse. The Reformation changed all that. German sociologist and political economic philosopher Max Weber (1864–1920), exploring why some nations were rich and others poor, concluded that the Protestant work ethic—work as man’s dignity—made the difference. Weber recognized poverty’s root in the absence of moral vision. A work ethic proclaimed from Reformation pulpits sparked the economic revolution that lifted nations from poverty.
Farmers, shopkeepers, and tinkerers founded the United States. Their lives and policies repudiated the two-tiered, aristocracy/peasant society of Europe. Their ideal was a nation of social equals. Kenneth Hopper and William Hopper, in The Puritan Gift: Reclaiming the American Dream Amidst Global Financial Chaos note that
A willingness to get their hands dirty distinguished managers from their European equivalents; this distinction reflected the relative lack of social stratification in the New World, the men at the top and bottom being considered to be made from the same common clay.
America’s founders understood that all labor, not just ecclesiastical work, is sacred. Every human being has a vocational calling. This counters the idea held by many Christians that “spiritual” work is higher than “secular” work. Every follower of Christ is called to “full-time” Christian work because all work is sacred.
10. Property Rights
Two clauses in the Ten Commandments relate to private ownership of property: “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet.” Christ told two parables to show the importance of wise management of property.
The American founders instituted the principle of property rights into the governing policies of the new nation. John Adams writes that “the moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the Laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist.”
The founders promoted the principle of private ownership of property. Personal wealth is to be freely and generously given. Wealth generated by individuals does not belong to the government, and it is not to be coercively taken to be “redistributed.”
Today’s atheistic West, with its closed system of limited resources, demands “equality” for each individual as a starting point, thus justifying government confiscation of private property to redistribute wealth. This was not the founders’ view of economic justice; they worked from an open system in which wealth is created by free and morally responsible people. Economic justice assures that people are equal before the law. The fruits of their labor and creativity are their property to use as they see fit.
The role of a free and just government is to guarantee equal rights for all, not to provide equal things for all. Private property and equality before the law allow the poorest to labor, be creative, and generate wealth to lift themselves out of poverty. This is true for all nations.
Where will the future take us?
The conscious founding of the United States as a nation built on biblical principles has created, though imperfectly, a light to the world. In a tragedy of epic proportions, Americans are abandoning the faith of their ancestors for a nation ruled by people and not by laws. The consequences will be increased poverty, social unrest, and tyranny.
- Darrow Miller
This DM&F Classic blog post is excerpted from the book Emancipating the World. For the entire text go here.