The preamble to the U.S. Constitution lists the five functions of government, all based on biblical principles
By Stephen K. McDowell & Mark A. Beliles
As outlined in my letter, on pages 10-11, civil government is one of the five main areas of jurisdiction to whom God gives certain responsibilities and very definite limits. This article takes a brief look at these, and highlights how they were incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. Civil government is not the most important of the five spheres, but probably has been the most ignored by modern Christians. As a result, the civil government of the United States has strayed far beyond its biblical and constitutional limitations, thus creating great injustice for many U.S. citizens. If we, the future leaders of China, study the example of early America, however, as highlighted in the following article, we can learn a great deal.
- Wang Jiapu
The American Revolution was a Christian Revolution, not simply because it was led by great Christian men such as Samuel Adams, but because of the biblical worldview that united the Colonies and motivated their actions and means of resistance. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence based on Christian ideas of resistance and liberty. The Continental Congress repeatedly sought God in prayer and acknowledged Him in their proclamations and legislation. Patrick Henry urged the use of arms as a biblical third step in resistance. George Washington led the American armies urging prayer among his troops and doing so himself frequently. Washington relinquished his power as commander of the armies and promoted the drafting of a new Constitution and became the first President by godly means rather than by a coup.
The Declaration of Independence is based upon the Christian idea of man and government. In fact, it was the first national covenant in history with such a foundation. The Declaration ends with the Congressional Representatives “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World” and acknowledging “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”
After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams, the father of the American Revolution, stated: “We have this day restored the Sovereign, to Whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and … from the rising to the setting sun, may His Kingdom come.”
America’s founders understood that the birth of their nation marked the birth of the first Christian nation in history – Christian not because all who founded it were Christians, but because its system of government was founded thoroughly upon Christian principles. J. Wingate Thorton relates how the sixth U.S. president, John Quincy Adams, said, “The highest glory of the American revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.“1
The U.S. Supreme Court has concurred with this a number of times. For example, in 1892, it declared:
“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it would be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institution are emphatically Christian … this is a Christian nation.”
The chief author of the American Constitution, and justly called its “Father,” was a Christian statesman, James Madison. (He would also become the fourth U.S. president.) That the Constitution was the product of Christianity, and of its ideas of man and government, is revealed by the biblical functions of government that Madison listed in its preamble:
1. To establish justice – This is the goal of the passages in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:14, which say that government is to punish evildoers and protect those who do right.
2. To insure domestic tranquility – This phrase comes from the focus of prayer for government, which Paul urged in 1 Timothy 2:1-2. The New American Standard Bible says to pray for government “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”
3. To provide for the common defense – The protection of innocent human life is at the base of not only capital punishment (Genesis 9:6), but also in the provision of an army for protection from external threats.
4. To promote the general welfare – Romans 13:4 says that civil rulers are servants “to you for good.” The common good of all classes of citizens must be promoted by government passage of laws guaranteeing equal opportunity. It is not proper for government to provide money and aid to special interest groups. It is to promote, not provide, and to do so for all people in general, not for special people.
5. To secure the blessings of liberty – Blessing are a gift of one’s Creator, not a privilege granted by government. These blessings include life, liberty, and property. A biblical view of government sees that it cannot provide these, only secure them.
Besides all these goals that are biblical, the United States Constitution established all of the basic structures that a biblical framework of government should have … Although not perfect, the U.S. Constitution clearly represents the fullest expression of biblical ideas and structures of government. For this reason it has lasted for over 200 years and has been copied by many nations around the globe.
1 John Wingate Thorton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution (Boston, 1860)
From Liberating the Nations: Biblical Principles of Government, Education, Economics, and Politics, by Stephen K. McDowell and Mark A. Beliles, Providence Foundation, ©1991. Used with permission.