Faithful in Little Things?

By Martin G. Selbrede
May 01, 2012

From the Editor

A 562-page hardcover book showed up at my door bearing the formidable title, Bible Law vs. The United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective. Written by Rev. Ted R. Weiland, it represents Dr. Gary North's anti-Constitution thesis in extremis (i.e., on steroids). I count 592 footnotes, among which a significant sampling of works by R. J. Rushdoony can be found.

I am unable to recommend this book, despite the many isolated instances in which Weiland does happen to hit the correct nail on the head (prison systems, minimum age of military service, importance of Biblical law, etc.). Weiland is reaching out to "pronomians" (those favorably disposed to the Law of God) and leveraging their delight in His commandments to support a thesis that his methodology doesn't properly undergird. Asserting that your thesis is The Christian Perspective is a bold step which could be justified if your methodology and research support your thesis without being tendentious or guilty of special pleading or mishandling of evidence.

As a proponent of R. J. Rushdoony's work, I found the form that Weiland's citations of Rushdoony took to be troubling at times: a positive citation, with Weiland expressing regret that Rushdoony wasn't consistent in applying that "correct" Biblical view just enunciated to the Constitution, the Founders, etc. What was missed entirely by Weiland was the key point made repeatedly by Rushdoony: that the U. S. Constitution provides us with a procedural morality, not a substantive morality. Therefore, it is no surprise that Weiland doesn't find a substantive morality in the Constitution, which was designed for aggregating thirteen Christian states under a covenantal (federal) bond for common defense and several other heavily delimited purposes.

Despite Weiland having listened to Rushdoony's lectures on the U. S. Constitution and citing The Nature of the American System, no acknowledgement of this critical point (which shapes the entire discussion) is found in this book. I can only conclude that it was omitted because the point conflicts with Weiland's thesis. Quotes that appear favorable to Weiland's thesis are put into service even if those authors sharply disagree with Weiland's perspective. Though I'm generally pleased when writers quote Rushdoony favorably, doing so without a sound methodology amounts to the mere riding of coattails. Perhaps Dr. North himself will distance himself from Weiland's extension of North's thesis concerning what happened in Philadelphia, given some of the baggage weighing down this volume.

If one were to float an agenda such as Weiland advocates, one needs to deal with opposing evidence and do so fairly. Yet the omissions in the book are many (no mention of M.E. Bradford, Marshall Foster, Verna Hall, etc.). But Weiland did take time to present to his readers a few paragraphs of Archie Jones's work, deeming the quoted arguments as acts of desperation unworthy of the reader's consideration. So, this circumstance presents a fair test for a polemical work: if Weiland is found faithful in small things, then perhaps he could be trusted with bigger issues. If he is misrepresenting the situation, then to that degree his thesis and its credibility justifiably suffer.

I assert this despite the cover letter Rev. Weiland sent with the book which includes an earnest appeal not to judge the book by one or two issues with which one might disagree. My critique here is not with a single issue: it is with the methodology. If the methodology is unsound in a key place, that leaven will leaven the whole lump. I believe that to be the case with this volume. We will apply Christ's principle that the measure you use will be the standard that you yourself will be measured with. The microscope Weiland uses on the Constitution will be used in turn on Weiland's handiwork to see what we can glean.

Historical and theological inquiry must always proceed on a sound methodology, without which the results will be suspect or misleading. It's not possible to do an in-depth review of this work (which is replete with idiosyncrasies even fans of Weiland's general thesis would object to). But it is possible to take a biopsy sample, run it through the pathology lab, and discern if the tissue is healthy or not.

Accordingly, a few years ago I had commended to Rev. Weiland the book review that Archie Jones wrote for the Journal of Christian Reconstruction that critically addressed the thesis of Gary North's Political Polytheism. Throughout that published review, Jones drew attention to deficiencies in Dr. North's historical methodology. This was a friendly "war of the Titans" between two Christian men who hold earned doctorates. While Dr. North's Ph.D. is in history, Archie's dissertation (University of Dallas, 1991) was entitled Christianity in the Constitution: The intended meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Weiland quotes from Archie's book review, but commits many of Dr. North's methodological errors all over again. It's hard to know if Weiland is even aware that Jones was awarded a doctorate defending a position that Weiland insists is utterly without foundation (Weiland never quotes Jones in regard to the First Amendment).

How do I know that Weiland's methodology was deficient and didn't do justice to Archie Jones's thesis? I got it from the horse's mouth: I contacted Archie and asked him to examine Weiland's handling of his arguments. I believe our readership will benefit from the following insights provided by Dr. Archie Jones (who, for the record, does not and never did regard the Constitution as perfect). Taken in conjunction with Rushdoony's statement concerning procedural versus substantive morality and its implications, the following discussion goes to the heart of the difficulties that mar this large volume.

From the pen of Dr. Archie Jones:

Mr. Weiland has grossly misrepresented my argument for the Christianity of our Constitution (as our Constitution was originally intended) -not only by attempting to evade the plain implications of the key words of Article VII, but also by taking but one of my arguments and making it seem as if it were my only argument for the Christianity of our Constitution. 

He does quote my brief exposition of the implications of "the year of our Lord ..." But he tries to pass these off as insignificant, supposedly because it is merely "a means of dating." Yet it is the Christian means of dating. The notorious and abominable Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, the most "liberal," most-overturned federal court, would certainly not let such a "religious" and markedly Christian phrase pass its secularist, First Amendment-distorting muster. Mohammedans date history differently. So do people of other religions. So did the French revolutionary rationalists. Mr. Weiland's flippancy may enable him to fool ignorant or thoughtless readers. It does not, however, enable him to evade the manifest-and manifestly Christian-implications of the Christian method of dating which I sketched in the material he quoted.

Those implications remain valid implications from this Christian method of dating. Mr. Weiland is stuck with them.

Crossing the Bible Bridge

Those implications are hardly "straws" to be grasping at. They are solid, sturdy planks, firmly fastened to the bridge of the Bible, well able to help us cross the river of misinformation and misinterpretation which separates so many from a knowledge of the truth about the Christian foundation of these United States and our Constitution. These planks are but parts of a much larger structure of evidence-which, of course, Mr. Weiland chose to ignore and to hide from his readers. That evidence includes not only the evidence I cited in my review of Dr. Gary North's Political Polytheism but also other pertinent bodies of evidence about the relationship of Christianity to our Constitution, including the following:

(1) The predominant religion of early America before, during, and after the framing and ratification of our Constitution

(2) Early American education before, during, and after the framing and ratification of our Constitution (including, of course, the education of the Framers and Ratifiers)

(3) Law, legal thought, and legal education in America before, during, and after the framing and ratification of our Constitution

(4) Our early states' constitutions, declarations of rights and bills of rights

(5) The relationships between "church and state" before and after the framing and ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (especially the First Amendment)

(6) The logic of the debates on the First Amendment

(7) The debates on the "religion clauses" of the First Amendment

(8) The record of the relationship between "religion" and civil government at the national government level before and after the framing and ratification of the First Amendment

(9) The Framers' and Ratifiers' concept of the nature of man and their design of our system of civil government to deal with this

(10) The powers delegated to the central government, forbidden to the same, forbidden to the state governments, and reserved to the state governments under the Constitution.

All of this evidence is directly pertinent to the issue of whether-or to what degree-the Constitution is Christian or Biblical. Mr. Weiland (from what I have seen) appears to gloss over or dismiss all this evidence.

Mr. Weiland tries to evade the burden of the plain implications of "in the year of our Lord" by asking if I would accept these implications as a statement of qualifications of members of the church I attend. Everyone may be thankful that I am not in a position to do so, but I will say this: Apart from a personal testimony of faith in Christ evidenced by a person's faith and life, the basic implications of Article VII's "year of our Lord" provide a pretty good theological foundation-and a far better foundation for social ethics, civil government, and law than the vast majority of churches apparently possess. They can even be seen to point to Mr. Weiland's own position that we must obey God's law.

By the way, this statement about "the year of our Lord" was added by the secretary of the Constitutional Convention, a Christian man. After the addition, all the members of the Constitutional Convention had an opportunity to review the document and to criticize all or any part of it. No one-NO ONE-said anything against this provision, and there were certainly critics of the Constitution among the Framers.

Now, the fact that at least ninety percent and probably more than ninety-five percent of the Framers were Christians-a fact which Mr. Weiland conveniently obscures or denies on the basis that they did not establish something like a seventeenth century New England Congregationalist political order-just might have had something to do with this! Mr. Weiland has not done the biographical research which would be necessary to determine (as much as one can determine from the surviving records of men's lives) whether the Framers-or Ratifiers-were Christians. The late M.E. Bradford did the research and discovered, to his surprise, that the great majority of them were Christians. If Mr. Weiland had done such biographical research, then he would have had some basis for knowing whether or not they obeyed God's laws in their personal lives. But he has found it easier to shun such study and condemn them on the basis of the fact that they did not do exactly what he would have had them do in their political roles as architects of our Constitution.

The Myth of Pluralism

In the conclusion of my review of Dr. North's Political Polytheism I summarized the arguments against the myth of religious and political pluralism by listing the following bodies of evidence-all of which are relevant to Mr. Weiland's thesis: 

(a)  The overwhelmingly Christian composition of the Constitutional Convention and the states' ratification conventions

(b) The debates on the prohibition of a religious test for national office

(c)  The debates concerning what became the First Amendment to the Constitution

(d) Many actions of various United States Congresses

(e)  A multitude of Presidential addresses, proclamations and papers

(f)  Federal Court and United States Supreme Court decisions

(g)  The constitutional commentaries of great legal scholars and pre-1940 law books

(h) The actions of such allegedly secularist or "pluralist" Presidents as Jefferson and Madison when they were in public office.

Mr. Weiland mentions none of the evidence I provided, making it seem as if I was basing my argument solely on Article VII of the Constitution.  

In my review I also discussed point (b), the debates on the prohibition of a religious test for national office (Article VI). I noted that:

The ban was proposed by Charles Pinckney III, an Episcopalian from South Carolina. It was seconded by Gouverneur Morris, an Episcopalian from Pennsylvania who deeply believed in the depravity of man and saw Christianity as the basis of good morals and good morals as the only possible support of political liberty. It was also seconded by Pinckney's cousin, General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a devout South Carolina Episcopalian who for more than fifteen years before his death was unanimously elected president of the Charleston Bible Society by Christians of every denomination.

I further noted that:

The motion was passed unanimously by the Framers, virtually all of whom were Christians ... Clearly, the motivation behind the prohibition of a religious test for national office can hardly be said to have been un-Christian, much less anti-Christian.

Such facts have an obvious bearing on the intentions behind Article VII of the Constitution and on the Christianity of the Constitution-but Mr. Weiland mentions none of my material on these points despite citing the review in which it appeared.

I further discussed Article VI, which, I repeat, is directly pertinent to Article VII and the issue of the Christianity of the Constitution:

The issue of the prohibition of a religious test for federal office was not discussed in all of the states. But where it was debated, the discussions were not conducted as disputes between Christians and non-Christians, much less between Christians and anti-Christian secularists. This hardly indicates a secularist or pluralistically "neutral" approach to either religion or the prohibition of a religious test.
In the few state conventions in which it was debated, the prohibition's defenders articulated some strong arguments ...:
First, the nation's defense against evil men, and against men of alien religions being elected to office in the absence of a religious test (oath), must rest on the vigilance and virtue of the predominantly Christian people of the nation. It is highly unlikely that the Christian people of America would elect non-Christians to office.
Second, the limited, expressed powers nature of the Constitution would prevent any future Congress or Senate, by way of law or treaty, from changing the fundamental religion of the people of the nation, or from passing laws persecuting Christians.
Third, Christ never wished for the support of Christianity by worldly power.
Fourth, Christianity flourished when left to the excellence of its own doctrines; it has made much greater progress when it has not been supported by the power of the state.
Fifth, religious tests must be banned to avoid a union of civil and ecclesiastical power which, history shows, leads to an intolerant, dictatorial spirit on the part of those in power, to religious persecutions, cruelties, and bloody, implacable religious wars; the rights of conscience (with those of life, person, property and liberty) must be protected against these things.
One may judge the arguments for the prohibition of a religious test for federal office to be weaker than the arguments for the inclusion of such a test. But that does not mean that either the arguments or the motivations of those who sought to prohibit a religious test for federal office were anti-Christian or secularist. Certainly, Dr. North could and should have been more charitable in his evaluation of this key constitutional provision.

None of this is mentioned in Mr. Weiland's critique of my remarks about Article VII. All of it is pertinent to the discussion of Article VII and of the issue of the Christianity of, and/or Christian intentions behind the Constitution.

Mr. Weiland has done worse than present me as a straw man (through omission of the full range of my extended argument). He has not sought to deal fairly and honestly with my argument (as I did with Dr. North's in the review from which Mr. Weiland quoted). He has stolen from me through his procrustean distortion of my argument, bearing false witness against me as a result. He has also stolen from his readers by hiding most of my arguments from their view. Where, I wonder, is "Obey God's laws!" in this?

Who Is a Christian?

There is an obvious issue in Mr. Weiland's book: What is the Biblical standard for determining if someone is a Christian? Mr. Weiland's answer seems to be: A Christian is one who says that we must obey God's laws and who, in fact, obeys God's laws revealed in the Bible. This standard would fit a Jew who denies that Christ is the Savior and Lord; it would also fit the life of a Gentile or non-Christian who, though he does not have the law of God revealed in Scripture, nevertheless obeys God's law because God has written the work of His law on the man's heart. (Of course, the man who loudly and repeatedly proclaims that we must obey God's laws revealed in Scripture would also describe a Pharisee and a hypocrite.)  

The Bible, in the Book of John (3:36), states a simpler criterion: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." Mr. Weiland's standard, if it includes faith in Christ (believing on the Son) as a premise, is a higher Biblical standard, for Christ repeatedly said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." And I, dim-lighted I, endorse that standard (I agree with Mr. Weiland, to a point!) as a higher Biblical standard. The trouble with Mr. Weiland's standard is that it leaves no room for the lesser Biblical standard presented in the Book of John. For Mr. Weiland there is apparently no quibbling: Say that you must obey the law of God and obey the law of God-or else you're not a Christian! His definition leaves no room for differences of interpretation about social ethics or law among Christians, or for the continual struggle against the sin that so easily besets us, or for growth in grace and knowledge.     

And by clear, forcefully and repeatedly stated implication, he raises a second issue: By what standard does the Bible say that we should determine whether or not something-a constitution, for instance-is Christian? I may agree in the abstract with Mr. Weiland that civil government should enforce God's laws revealed in Scripture, and (if he is saying what he seems to be saying) that civil government should enforce both tables of God's law. Yet, while I may agree that this should be done, I recognize that other Christians (who, from all that I can tell, intend to glorify God and so to obey God's laws) believe that only the Second Table of God's law should be enforced by civil government. They can point to Romans 13:1-10 which (it seems clear to me) points us to God's law revealed in Scripture as the highest standard of law and the law standard which civil government is required to obey, and they duly note that Romans 13:1-10 reiterates only the commandments of the Second Table in defining the ethical duties of citizens and civil governments. That seems to require something less than Mr. Weiland seems to want civil government to do. Although I may differ with these Christians on this subject (not being as righteous as Mr. Weiland), I will only say that they are, at most, in error on this point-not that they aren't Christians.

There is a related point about the ethical standard by which we tell whether something like our Constitution is Christian. I agree with Mr. Weiland that God's law revealed in the Bible should be our ethical standard and our ethical standard for our civil governments including the central/national government under the Constitution. The Bible certainly points to itself as the highest standard of law. (Blackstone's Commentaries, the textbook on law for the Framers and Ratifiers and early Americans, similarly pointed to God's law revealed in Scripture as the highest standard of law.)  Analysis of other would-be standards of law also leads to the conclusion that they-to one degree or another-are defective and are therefore inferior to the Bible as a standard of law.

 The Bible is certainly the best and highest standard of law, and it is the standard by which Christians should evaluate law. Yet the Bible also recognizes other standards of law: "nature" and "conscience" (although something could be said of "experience" based on a Biblical view of the world and life as a standard of civil government, ethics, and law). Both of these standards, "nature" and "conscience," are, within limits, valid standards, says the Bible. For the Gentiles who have not God's law revealed in Scripture nevertheless do the things of the law of God because God has written the work of His law on their hearts, and a mature conscience is a good ethical guide.

But both of these are also inferior to the Bible as ethical standards because they have inherent defects. "Nature" is fallen; man's nature is certainly fallen; man naturally wants to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (and there are other problems associated with "nature" and "natural law" which could be mentioned). "Conscience" may have various defects which manifestly render it a flawed ethical standard; it may not be mature; it may be seared. So a Christian may legitimately appeal to "nature" or "natural law," and/or to "conscience" as an ethical standard. In doing so he appeals to an ethical standard that is of some value but which is also only of limited value and is not as good a standard as the only infallible ethical standard, God's law revealed in Scripture.

Where I differ with Mr. Weiland on this point is this: he brands any Christian who appeals to "nature"/"natural law" or "conscience"-anything but Bible law-as non-Christian. I believe that such a person is a Christian who is using an ethical standard of limited value, a standard of some value but manifestly not so good a standard as Biblical law.

God and Government

The issue of whether God's Word and law require civil government to enforce both tables of the law, or only the Second Table, raises other issues. First, if civil government must enforce both tables of God's law, does it then follow that we must have a national established church? Mr. Weiland's intolerance for anything other than his own view seems to cry out for one. A national established church would seem to be necessary in order to make sure that everyone is getting taught the right things about God. Yet history-God's providential outworking of events to achieve His holy purposes-certainly indicates that the Christians who argued for the Constitution's (Article VI's) prohibition of a religious test for federal office on the basis of the Christian ethical provisions were right. We should not have a national established church (this is all that the real intentions behind the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment-contrary to Mr. Weiland's argument-sought) because such an institution has always (or at least very frequently) led to such ungodly consequences.

Second, a crucial issue is the federalism of our Constitution. Mr. Weiland's misinterpretation of the Constitution stems in large part from his failure to factor federalism into his interpretive equation: a colossal error. He operates too much from a post-War of 1812, New England manufacturers' (and Northern ones') myth of the Constitution as a compact based on the people of the United States as a whole-and a supposedly mystical, sacred whole at that-a basically majority-rule, national majority, centralized system of civil government. He cites Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as authority for "We the People of the United States ..." meaning the people as a whole! Lincoln, of course, in the Gettysburg Address, was pointing people back to the Declaration of Independence ("Fourscore and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation ...)-not to the Constitution; he was, in effect, trying to replace the Constitution with a stilted reading of the Declaration as the fundamental law of these United States. That, of course was a lie by "Honest Abe" (and not his only one!). The Declaration-as can be easily seen by its last paragraph-brought forth thirteen free and independent states, thirteen free and independent new nations: not one new nation. To make a longer story short (and, sadly, to omit more evidence that could be brought to bear against Mr. Weiland's argument), our Constitution was framed by the representatives of those states, then ratified by other representatives of those states.

Our Constitution was a compact among the people of those thirteen states: that is what "We the People of the United States ..." meant. It did not mean the people of the United States as a whole. We know this because in the states' ratification conventions, Anti-federalists like Patrick Henry charged that this famous language opening the Preamble meant that the Constitution had created a national majority-rule system of civil government, and that therefore the states were doomed to be oppressed by the national majority-and the Federalist advocates of ratification of the Constitution denied that this was the case or the intention.

Three of those states-New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia-explicitly stated in their ratification documents that they could take back the powers which they had delegated to the new central or national government which they had established by the Constitution. That doesn't exactly fit with the New England and Northern mythology of the mystical Union, does it? Neither does it fit with Mr. Weiland's ignorant, distorted version of the Constitution as forming a consolidated national entity based on the will of the national majority of "the People."

Federalism was absolutely fundamental to the Constitution. The Constitution was a delegated powers document: the central government got what powers it had from the states-as delegated powers, powers that could be taken back if the entity delegating them determined to do so-not from "the People" as a national majority. The Constitution was an expressed powers document: the central government had, and was intended to have, only those powers expressly written into the document: no more, no less. The Constitution was also a reserved powers document: the states retained-reserved to themselves, to their own governments-every power of a state's or nation's civil government which they had neither delegated to the national/central government in the Constitution nor denied to themselves in the Constitution. That meant that each state reserved to itself the authority over virtually everything within its own borders.

Federalism-the Constitution's system of separation of powers and checks and balances between the new national/central government and the states' governments-was absolutely fundamental to the Constitution: we would not have had a Constitution without it. Federalism reserved to the states authority over their own internal affairs. If Mr. Weiland had read The Federalist he would know this. If he has written a book on the Constitution-especially on Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution-he should know this. He doesn't.

The Context of the Constitution

Here is what is especially pertinent to Mr. Weiland's argument. Each of these states framed and had its own constitution, declaration of rights, and/or bill of rights (a couple used their colonial charters as constitutions). These were the background and framework of the Constitution. Representatives from these states framed the Constitution. Other groups of representatives of these states ratified the Constitution. A Constitution which was religiously, ethically and politically opposed to the constitutions, declarations of rights and bills of rights of the states would never have been ratified. These state constitutions, declarations of rights, and bills of rights were Christian documents, Christian fundamental laws of their respective states; many of them were beautifully Christian. The states' laws were Christian too-based on and embodying Christian ethical principles, God's laws. Many of them prohibited and punished blasphemy. (Much more could be said on this!)

Federalism made these states' constitutions, declarations of rights, bills of rights, and laws absolutely fundamental to, and inseparable from, the system of civil government and law established by our Constitution. You cannot understand our Constitution without understanding this.

Moreover, as the Constitution makes evident, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution-added at the insistence of the people of the several states to protect the powers of their state governments against usurpation by the central government, and the rights of the people of those states against destruction by a tyrannical central government-makes it inescapably obvious, and The Federalist states and explains explicitly and repeatedly, that our Constitution left by far the greater number and scope of governmental authority and powers in the hands of the state governments-not the central government-so the life of the individual was intended to be affected far more by the state governments (to the still limited extent that it was meant to be affected by any civil government) than by the central government. The life of the individual person under our constitutional system was intended by the framers and ratifiers of our U. S. Constitution to be far more affected by these Christian state governments than by the central/national government.

Since Mr. Weiland's analysis minimizes any consideration of these factors, his analysis of our Constitution (or our constitutional system) fails to properly consider the state governments and misrepresents the full scope of civil government under our Constitution's system of civil government and law. That is quite an accomplishment! It means that he has presented his readers with an immensely distorted interpretation of our Constitution, the relationship of Christianity to our Constitution and laws, and the Christian heritage of the people of these United States. - Archie Jones, Ph.D.

Topics: Biblical Law, R. J. Rushdoony, Culture , Government, Constitution, The, American History

Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s magazine, Faith for All of Life. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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