WHICH CONSTITUTION? Academic explores the Constitution's purpose, role in today's society

1. By Dr. VIC REASONER, Special to The T&DFriday, September 19, 2008

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Editor's note: The following is a condensed version of an address Dr. Vic Reasoner gave at Southern Methodist College for Constitution Day. Reasoner is academic dean at Southern Methodist College in Orangeburg.

The United States Constitution took effect 219 years ago. It is the world's oldest and shortest written constitution in force; only 4,440 words. And yet, a federal directive regulating the price of cabbage is 26,911 words. English writer G.K. Chesterton once said, "If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments."

The concept of limited government

According to Romans 13, all authority is instituted by God: the home, the church, the state. He is Lord over all. We believe government should be limited because it is not God. Before Christ, God appointed the kings of Israel. Thus, the concept developed of the divine right of kings. Yet, in Scripture, the king was always under God's law, and sometimes, God sent His prophet to remind the king of that fact. In paganism, the king was considered divine, or at least the son of God. Thus, pagan kings usurped God's authority.

On the occasion of Christ's resurrection, He was appointed the ruler of the world (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:32; Psalm 110:1). And so we recognize no king but king Jesus. This was preached from the pulpits of early American churches. Yet, we do not advocate anarchy. There must be civil government. But according to scripture, the basic role of government is limited to:


judicial system that promotes justice and punishes criminals

ensuring honest weights and measures in commerce

defending its citizens against international aggressors

protecting private property

quarantining those who are general health risks

protecting religious freedom

According to Deuteronomy 6, education is the responsibility of parents. All teachers function "in loco parentis" (Latin for "in the place of a parent").

The Church is also commissioned with a mandate to teach all nations. I consciously object to the state accrediting and certifying a church college such as ours, even if they do it indirectly, because I believe in the separation of church and state. That means the government should stay out of the Church. It does not mean that God's law should be banned from civil government. The early Christians would not swear that Caesar was Lord. The earliest creed was "Jesus is Lord." In contrast, philospher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said, "The state is God walking on earth." Karl Marx built upon the philosophy of Hegel. His political communism amount to Satan walking on earth, as communism executed 110 million of its own citizens in the 20th century.

The development of limited government

What should be done when the state usurps the role of God? The fathers of our nation wrestled with these questions. If God ordains government, government is also limited by God. When civil government oversteps its bounds, we must obey God rather than man.

Our founding fathers relied on the theology of Samuel Rutherford, a Scotsman. In 1644, he wrote "Lex Rex," which means "the law is king." The older view of government was that the king is law. But Rutherford argued that government itself is under the law of God. Acts of state that contradict God's law are illegitimate and acts of tyranny. We must resist unlawful government. Thus, the Declaration of Independence was not an act of anarchy but rather cited 27 biblical violations by King George III.

Francis Schaeffer presented an updated version of this concept in "A Christian Manifesto" in 1981. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world wrestle with such questions. I believe we are at a point where we must begin asking such questions ourselves.

After our independence was obtained, we had to agree on a civil compact or covenant under which we would operate. From 1781 to 1787, the U.S. operated under the Articles of Confederation. They did not work because there was no separation of powers. So the Constitutional Convention was held, and the Constitution was drafted and sent to the states for ratification. Only after the Bill of Rights was added was our present constitution ratified.

The "miracle in Philly" was that in less than 100 days, this document was drafted, debated, adopted and signed on Sept 17, 1787. It was adopted by Congress on Sept 13, 1788, and took effect in 1789.

The Bible is cited in our Constitution more than any other source. Out of 15,000 samples of the writings of our founding father collected by the University of Houston professors, they found 3,154 of those had a significant impact on our constitution. Of those writings, they found that the Bible was quoted 16 times more than any other source. Ninety-four percent of the quotes were based on the Bible, 34 percent came directly out of the Bible and 60 percent used the Bible to arrive at their conclusion.

While reading Isaiah 33:22, "For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us," it came to James Madison that this is how the government of the United States should be structured. Thus, our Constitution provides for three branches of government: legislative, judicial and executive. No branch of government can usurp the authority of another branch. This safeguard was created because we believe that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Because we believe in human depravity, our government is organized with checks and balances. This system of checks and balances is based on the presumption of man's sinful nature. The genius of the Constitution is the separation of powers. James Madison wrote in five of his Federalist Papers that each branch was wholly independent of the other, yet bound together through a system of checks and balances.

The attack on limited government

Yet, the concept of limited government is under attack. We have lost faith in a big God and now trust in big government as our savior. But a government who can do everything for us can also take everything from us.

When the Rev. Rick Warren interviewed both presidential candidates recently (Democratic Sen.
Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain), he asked them who they would not have nominated to the Supreme Court. One candidate named Supreme Court justices who hold to a strict interpretation of the Constitution and praised those justices who interpreted the Constitution from a liberal philosophy.

When the other candidate was asked the same question, who he would not have nominated to the Supreme Court, he named those liberal justices who had been previously praised. Then, he praised those strict justices who had previously been criticized.

Obviously, we have two differing philosophies on the interpretation of the Constitution. Today, the greatest legal battle is between a philosophy called "original intent," or framers' intent, and the evolutionary philosophy of judicial activism. Liberal judges have perverted our Constitution, making it mean whatever they want it to say. Thus, the Constitution is said

to be a living document, and if it was living, it was evolving. Beginning with Associate Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the absolutes of the Constitution were undermined, and the door was opened for an evolutionary theory of law. Therefore, in 1907, Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes said "the Constitution is what the judges say it is." Why go through the democratic process of amending the Constitution when it can be made to say anything through judicial fiat?

The God of any society is the source of their laws. If our laws were based on God's Word, and if our laws are being reinterpreted by judicial activists, then they are guilty of usurping the place of God.

On Sept. 11, S.C. Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty spoke at Claflin University's commemoration of Constitution Day. And he spoke of the continuing struggle between differing interpretations. "The question that we struggle with today is, 'What does the Constitution really mean?'" Beatty said there are two schools of thought: the "adjustable, adaptable" school, believing the Constitution is more of a guideline than an absolute, and the originalists who believe the Constitution means what it says. "I take their (originalists') argument as being a bridge to nowhere," Beatty said. However, Gary Briden, president of Southern Methodist College, prefers to call it "the bridge to freedom."

According to Beatty's philosophy, the citizens of South Carolina are at the mercy of the majority opinion of five South Carolina Supreme Court justices, and I am afraid of where that bridge will lead. Our nation is at the mercy of the majority opinion of nine federal Supreme Court justices.

Thomas Jefferson warned that if the judicial branch was given the authority to overrule the legislative and executive branches, the judiciary would become a "despotic branch." Later, in 1861, Lincoln warned that "if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decision of the Supreme Court, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal." In the first 100 years of their existence, the Supreme Court struck down a total of two laws. Today, it is estimated that 60 percent of all our laws are formulated by judicial process.

This is judicial tyranny, and it is destroying the social contract on which our nation was built. Our nation is at a crossroad. As Joshua challenged Israel to choose this day whom they would serve, we, too, have that same choice. And it remains to be seen which Constitution we will operate under: the one our founding fathers framed, or the one that exists as a figment of the imagination of an elite oligarchy.