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Covenant Breaking When Instituting War

  • Louis Sette,
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Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees to seven world championships from 1949 to 1960, including five in a row, when the team dominated baseball. But a few years later, Stengel, by then an elderly man, found himself managing the New York Mets, then the worst in the majors. It is reported that one day, contemplating his sorry assemblage of players, Stengel wonder aloud, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” The old man, who had witnessed baseball greatness, now watched exasperating ineptness.

And so it is with observers of what passes for Christian political participation today. One must wonder, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” When the Constitution was drafted, Christians dominated American politics. Their worldview substantially shaped the document. Its “checks and balances system reflects the Christian distrust of man as sinner.”1 Implicitly, “It recognized that Christianity was already the established religion of every state” and confirmed in the First Amendment that Congress had no power even to touch that arrangement.”2 The Constitution also requires the President and Congress to take covenantal oaths, a Biblical concept, as assurances of faithfulness to the document. Now Christians bumble about, missing the significance of these oaths just as the Mets used to miss Casey’s signs for a hit and run or squeeze play.

By and large, Christians have applauded President Bush and a majority of Congress while they violated their oaths by putting America into war with Iraq by unconstitutional means. Congress, not the President, has the exclusive authority to declare war. This is set forth with unmistakable clarity in the Constitution in Art. 1, Sec. 8.3 Nevertheless, the President sought and won from Congress the purported authority, in the form of a resolution,4 to decide whether the United States would engage in war. In doing so, the President and a majority in Congress, at his behest, violated their oaths of office. Congress allowed the President to exercise a power the Constitution did not give him and shamefully avoided its own duty to decide whether to go to war. Christians appear to have missed this, even though the President and Congress colluded in public through some months to achieve this unconstitutional result. A decent respect for truth, to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, should have required Christians (and all Americans) to declare the causes that impelled them to outrage.5

The quick end of the Iraqi war has not rendered this issue moot. The history of American wars makes it statistically likely that presidents will unconstitutionally put us into wars again. Of all the armed conflicts in which the United States has been involved, Congress has declared war only five times.6 And besides, that huge, Baghdad statue of Saddam Hussein had hardly been torn down before hints of war possibilities with Iran or Syria or even North Korea began floating up from Washington. So, for those who missed the covenantal issue in the decision for war last time, here is what they need to know for next time.

Art. II, Sec. 1 of the Constitution stipulates the oath the President shall take upon taking office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” We recall the solemnity of such inaugural moments, as if they were snapshots from the family photo album. Presidents-elect, placing their hands on the Bible, follow the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States through the oath. Regarding Senators and members of the House of Representatives, the Constitution does not prescribe the oath to be taken. Instead, Art. VI simply says, “The Senators and Representatives…shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution.…” These covenantal oaths are quite clear. Presidents are to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. Members of Congress are “to support” it. But in the Iraqi affair, the President and members of Congress conspired to subvert it.

By these presidential and congressional breaches of covenant, American Christians (and all Americans) have suffered damage to the legal order God ordained for them. We were to live under a federal executive who could not commit the nation to war. Though he might ask Congress for a Declaration of War, he was not to participate in the decision. Once Congress declared war, the President’s duty would then be to prosecute the war as “commander in chief.”7 His task, though weighty, would be merely ministerial under Congress’ declaration.

By this arrangement, God delivered His covenant people from the kind of kingly war making abuse to which ancient Israel had been subjected. In I Samuel 8:11, 12 speaking of the lofty office of king, which would be beyond the people’s control, Samuel warned the people, “He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots… [A]nd to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.”8 God was later pleased to grant American Christians a great blessing in the Constitution by relieving them from this potential harm.

Though not a king, the President, in his lofty office, is relatively remote from the people. He is elected by them only indirectly, from across the Union, through electors.9 God’s provision for His people here, however, was not to put the war making decision in the President’s hands but to vest it in office holders who were electorally much closer to the people and more under their control. Under the Constitution, the members of the House of Representative, whom the people would directly elect from their respective congressional districts, were to participate in decisions to make war, along with Senators. The closest electoral relationship between the people and any federal office holder is the one between them and their respective House members, the next closest being the one with their respective Senators.10

Either ignorant of all this or uncaring, Christians by and large stood mute, or worse yet, applauded, as President Bush and members of Congress violated their oaths by refusing to act in accordance with this constitutional protection for the people. By doing so, these Christians condoned or even encouraged revolution against God’s ordained order for America by those who had sworn oaths to preserve, protect, and support it, as expressed in the Constitution. Christians did not seem to observe that the President had purported to receive for himself a kingly prerogative from a Congress that God had ordained to carry out the very function which the President had coveted.11 Romans 13:1,2 commands that “every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves condemnation.”12 By applying the principle of this passage to our time, we see that the Constitution is the God ordained power, or authority, to which the President and Congress are to be subject, even by oath. They have resisted it in their pretentious attempt to supplant it with an arrangement of their own creation. It is unfortunate, but their actions deserve not the applause of the American people, but their condemnation, just as the Bible promises it from God.


1. Rousas John Rushdoony, The United States: A Christian Republic (Chalcedon Foundation, Vallecito, CA., 2000), p. 5.

2. Ibid., p. 5.

3. In setting forth Congress’ enumerated powers, Art. I, Sec. 8 states, “The Congress shall have the power…To declare war.”

4. The “Joint Resolution to authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces Against Iraq,” dated Oct. 10,2002, rested on a false premise. Sec. 3(a) stated, “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.” Congress is not constitutionally empowered to issue to the President such an authorization. It is empowered to declare war. The former would merely permit action, shifting the ultimate decision to the President. The latter requires it, leaving the President no decision at all and instead directing him to take action. By way of contrast, the Declaration of War on Japan, dated Dec. 8, 1941, read: “JOINT RESOLUTION Declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial Government of Japan and the Government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same…That the state of war…is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States…to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan….” The Dec. 11, 1941 Congressional Declaration of War on Germany read similarly. (Emphasis added.)

5. “[A] decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” The Declaration of Independence.

6. The Costs of War, John V. Denson, Ed. (New Brunswick, N.J. Transaction Publishers, 1997) p. 1.

7. “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States…” Art. II, Sec. 2.

8. KJV

9. In fact, the President does not represent the people. His title reflects this. He is “President of the United States of America.” Art. II, Sec. 1. He is chosen by electors whom each “state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Ibid. The fact that the respective state legislatures have determined to make their appointments through the popular vote of their residents does not change the essence of the matter. A state legislature could choose to appoint the electors itself, without a popular vote, a constitutional fact that made newscasters’ heads spin during Florida’s electoral vote controversy in 2000. (Emphasis added.)

10. This was true even as Senators were originally elected, by the legislatures of the respective states. Though the people’s participation in this was indirect, derived from their election of legislators in their respective states, the degree of their remoteness in electing a president through electors was even greater as it was multiplied by the number of states.

11. President Bush is not alone among presidents in aspiring to war powers fit for a king. Since the close of World War II alone, Presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush (the first) and Clinton committed American armed forces to war, maintained them in war or put them in the midst of battles between other forces. Truman, Johnson and Nixon coupled conscription to their prosecution of the congressionally undeclared Korean and Viet Nam wars. Upon taking office in 1953, Eisenhower maintained troops in the Korean War, begun under Truman, but only for some months until the fighting ended. Nevertheless, the repetition of unconstitutional actions can no more make them legal than the repetition of sin can make it righteous.

12. The 1599 Geneva Bible.

  • Louis Sette

Louis Sette is a retired lawyer and business man who lives in Forest, Va., with his wife and two sons who attend nearby Liberty University. He is a member of Grace Orthodox Presbyrerian Church. He can be reached at [email protected]

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