Sunday, August 2, 2009

Final Response to Gregg Frazer

This post will be the last in my series of posts that seek to answer some questions that Gregg Frazer asked me about my interpretation of Romans 13. In an attempt to guide this discussion away from the political theologies of Frazer and myself toward a discussion of the political theologies of the framers, other founders, clergy, and common people of that day and those that influenced them, I attempted to put this debate in its larger context of the history of the political theology that shaped this time. Frazer's view of Romans 13 is more or less the same as the Loyalist view back then that came from a long line of theology reasoning. My view is more or less that of Jonathan Mayhew and others that followed the line of reasoning handed down by John Locke and the Scholastics. I hope to continue along those lines of discussing the views of each camp and the origins of their line of reasoning by answering the following historical question that was posed by Frazer during our dialogue:

"You said that Washington or the revolutionaries in general were given a mandate by God to rebel (as per a couple of Old Testament examples) -- can you quote a single American revolutionary claiming to have received direct revelation from God telling him to rebel? Or revelation from God affirming that He raised them up as deliverers?"

To answer this question I have to put it into the context of the overall discussion Frazer and I had for clarity. First, let me state that I never stated that Washington, or any other founder, had received a mandate from God. Frazer, responding to many examples I gave him of people in the Bible, said that just because men sinned and rose up against the government and God used it to dispose a King does not mean God was behind that man's sin. Then I cited the example of Othniel from Judges 3 and the undeniable fact that he did this in the power and blessing of God and was no way in sin doing it contrary to Frazer. Frazer alludes to this story in the wording of the question he posed.

In short, the story is about when the people of God cried out because of the oppressor that God had sent against them, how God heard them, and how He raised up Othniel to deliver them:

"The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, so that he became Israel's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died."

We see this pattern over and over again in the Bible: 1) God's people cry out in their oppression or need 2) God hears them 3) God sends a deliverer 4) He goes to war and the hand of God is with him as he leads the people to freedom.

As I quoted this story to Frazer he told me the difference between this story and the founding was that Washington and company did not have a divine command like Othniel. I replied back by asking him who he was to say whether someone had a divine command to do something or not? He replied back with the question I quoted above.

As part of my response, I would like to revisit the sermon I quoted in my last post by Abraham Keteltas. He stated the following in his sermon named "God Arising and Pleading the Cause of His People":

""God commanded the Israelites, saying, ye shall not oppress one another. Leviticus 25, 14–17. When the ten tribes had revolted from Rehoboam, because of oppression, and when Rehoboam and Judah went out to fight against them to bring them back to subjection, God sent his prophet to Rehoboam and Judah, saying, ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren! 1 Kings 12, 24. God declared to Abraham, I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee. See also 1. Chron. 16, 22, compared with Psalm 105, 15, where Jehovah is represented, saying, touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm: i.e. God’s anointed people, and not kings, because it is said in the preceeding verse, he suffered no man to do them wrong, yea,he reproved kings for their sake."

He is essentially stating that kings and common people alike can be the anointed of God. Thus, if Kings mess with God's people they will be reproved. Not just the other way around. This seems consistent with the concept in the story about Othniel and deliverance quoted above. Let me reiterate the truth or non-truth of the story is not necessarily relevant to the topic at hand. What is most important is the political theology of those at the founding and those who influenced them. In other words, all that matters for our purposes is if the people of the time believed these types of things happened.

With that said, lets look further into Keteltas' sermon as a narrative of some of the thinking at the time and see if it continues to line up with the concept found in the story of Othniel and deliverance:

"Arise O God! Plead thine own Cause.

Psalm 74, Verse 22.

When David, the inspired penman of this psalm, was greatly distressed, unjustly blam’d on account of the Amalekites invading, spoiling, and burning Ziklag; and carrying away captive the women that were therein, and when the people talked of stoning him on that account, we read, that under these afflicting circumstances,he encouraged himself in the Lord his God. I Sam. 30:6. In this respect, the royal Psalmist exemplified in his conduct, the exercise of every believer. They all fly to God for refuge in time of trouble, and expect comfort and relief from his power and grace, from his glorious perfections and precious promises. The language of their hearts, in any deep distress, is that of Asaph,"

The highlights are mine and were done to emphasis his point about what the people of God do when they feel they are in trouble: they go to God in prayer and expect comfort and relief. The town was burning, things seemed bleak, and David was imploring God to "arise and plead His own cause."

To further understand how Keteltas believed David's welfare was God's cause lets continue on with some more of his words:

"In discoursing on these words I shall endeavor by divine assistance,

I. To shew you what we are to understand by the cause of God.

II. What is meant by his arising and pleading this cause; and what encouragement his people have that he will effectually do it."

This seems to speak for itself so lets see what he is talking about here in regards to number 1:

"I add the welfare of the people, who believe and profess the above mentioned system of divine truths, and practice the righteousness just now describ’d, is the cause of God. They are a society of holy and regenerate souls; trusting in the mercy of God through Christ, conforming the temper of their minds and the tenor of their lives, to the nature, will, and perfections of God; they are represented in Scripture, as a kingdom, of which Jesus Christ is the monarch, as a body, of which the son of God is the head: They are described by St. Peter, as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, destined to shew forth the praises of him who called them from darkness to his marvellous light:"

This seems that he is describing the welfare of God's people as the cause of God. Then he gives what looks like an orthodox position on who God's people are.

Now let's see what it means for God to actively plead the cause of these people as part of Keteltas describing part 2 above:

"The Hebrew word here translated plead, may be rendered litigate, strove, contend, fight, but being here connected with cause, it is best translated, by the English word plead, a term very familiar to most of us, which signifies an advocate, lawyer, or patron’s arguing, supplicating, interceeding, contending for his client, and representing his case to the best advantage, espousing or patronizing it, or taking it in his own hands and managing it.

Then he goes on to a concrete example:

"There is a remarkable passage in the ensuing chapter, in which God speaks of the injuries done to his people, as if done to himself; he makes their cause his own, and declares that he will plead it. See Jeremiah 51, 33 &c.

Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with his delicates, he hath cast me out. The violence done to me and to my flesh, be upon Babylon, shall the inhabitant of Zion say; and my blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea, shall Jerusalem say, therefore thus saith the Lord, behold I will plead thy cause, and take vengeance for thee:"

This seems to show that Keteltas believed that the Bible taught crushing and devouring God's people was synonymous with crushing and devouring God. The pleading seems to be God's vengeance against the king of Babylon on behalf of his people and their cause. He explains this further in this quote:

"God pleads his own, and his people’s cause by his providence. The whole history of it, from the creation of the world, is a series of wonderful interpositions in behalf of his elect."

I highlighted "interposition" because it will come up later in regards to God's providence. Keteltas then goes on to list a bunch of examples from the Bible and History that illustrate his point about God intervening on behalf of his people when they are in distress and cry out to him. All of which are consistent with the concept Othniel and deliverance from the story at the beginning of this post. I will quote one as an example:

"Philip the 2d, king of Spain, was on the throne of the most powerful kingdom in the world; he had not only great dominions in Europe, Spain, and Portugal, under his command: but he had the East and West Indies, and the mines of Mexico and Peru. He oppressed the Dutch, and began to abridge their civil and religious liberties; they petitioned for a redress of their grievances; but they were ignominiously styled Geux, that is beggars, and their petitions with the greatest scorn and contempt: whereupon, relying on God, they, although but a handful of men, against a mighty monarchy, rebelled against Spain, under the conduct of the prince of Orange, and at length, after a long, and arduous struggle, were acknowledged by their tyrants, to be free and independent states!"

Now lets keep in mind, my agnostic friends, that the issue at hand is not whether this struggle was ended by Divine Providence or circumstances. It is whether the mindset of the people at that time allowed that Divine Providence was possible. With that said, it seems to definitely be the mindset of Keteltas and others who preached similar sermons. It is also consistent with the concept of the story of Othniel and deliverance that I quoted to Frazer. The only thing that remains to answer his question is whether Washington, or anyone else, thought that they were called and used of God in his "interposition" on behalf of his people.

The following quotes were from non-Christian sites and I checked them against the original document from other sites. The first part of the last story was confirmed by the people who put his papers together at the University of Virginia. The second part about the chief was on numerous websites. One was David Barton's so I cannot be 100 percent about its accuracy. Anyway lets hear from George Washington about God's "interposition" on behalf of the Revolutionaries:

1. "As the Cause of our common Country, calls us both to an active and dangerous Duty, I trust that Divine Providence, which wisely orders the Affairs of Men, will enable us to discharge it with Fidelity and Success." -Letter to Jonathan Trumbull, July 18, 1775

2. "I have often thought how much happier I should have been, if, instead of accepting of a command under such circumstances, I had taken my musket on my shoulder and entered the ranks, or, if I could have justified the measure to posterity and my own conscience, had retired to the back country, and lived in a wigwam. If I shall be able to rise superior to these and many other difficulties, which might be enumerated, I shall most religiously believe, that the finger of Providence is in it, to blind the eyes of our enemies." - Letter to John Hancock, January 14, 1776

3. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. -George Washington's First Inaugural Address

4. The commander-in-chief orders the cessation of hostilities between the United States of America and the king of Great Britain to be publicly proclaimed tomorrow at twelve o'clock,...after which the chaplains with the several brigades will render thanks to almighty God for all his mercies, particularly for his overruling the wrath of man to his own glory, and causing the rage of war to cease among the nations.... -General Orders 1783

And the smoking gun:

5. If such talents as I possess have been called into action by great events, and those events have terminated happily for our country, the glory should be ascribed to the manifest interposition of an overruling Providence. -Letter from George Washington to the Reformed Dutch Church, 1789

This last quote would seem particularily interesting considering he believes he was "called into action" which are words used by Christians that feel draw to a divine purpose. It is also telling the he uses the same word "interposition" as Keteltas does when he is describing Divine intervention in the establishment of America. These sentiments are also very much in line with the concept of the story of Othniel and deliverance above.

This last quote is also intriguing because of how it seems to connect perfectly with this story that talks about a battle during the French and Indian War:

Later that evening, this British officer noticed several bullet holes in

his uniform, yet he was unharmed. A few days later he wrote in a letter

to his brother:

"By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected

beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets

through my coat, and two horses shot under me yet escaped unhurt, although

death was leveling my companions on every side of me."

Years later, that same British Officer went back to those same

Pennsylvania woods. That same Chief who had fought against this man heard

he was in the region and came a long way to see him. In a face to face

council, the Chief said:

"Listen! [You] will become the chief of nations, and a people

yet unborn will hail [you] as the founder of a mighty empire. I am come

to pay homage to the man who is the particular favorite of Heaven, and who

can never die in battle."

The battle on the Monongahela, part of the French and Indian war, was

fought on July 9, 1755 near Fort Duquesne, now the city of Pittsburgh.

The twenty-three year old officer went on to become the commander in chief

of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States. In

all the years that followed in his long career, this man, George

Washington was never once wounded in Battle."

It makes one wonder if Washington was right and that he had been saved by "dispensations of Divine Providence" to "be called in action" as the instrument of " Almighty God" many years later when "overuling the wrath of man" as King George was defeated. In other words, did he believe he was sent and protected by God to help deliver his countrymen from the hands of their oppressor? It seems he does.

To answer Frazer's question, it seems that I can come up with a quote that a Founder felt called to action by Divine providence to overrule the wrath of the King. This, along with the "step by step" establishment of the new nation would seem to be the happy ending that Keteltas seems to imply is the cause of God, and His people, in his sermon. It all seems perfectly consistent with the concept of people praying and crying out to God in their oppression, God hearing their cries, God sending a deliverer, and that deliverer defying all odds to push back the oppressor and liberate the people from Judges 3. It seems like both Washington and Keteltas thought God's invisible hand a more than plausible explanation for the success of the American Revolution.

And lest anyone say "Washington is not the orthodox Christian that Keteltas described as God's cause", how many times did God raise up a deliverer that was not one of his people? Cyrus come to mind anyone? I am not saying Washington was or was not part of "God's Elect" I am saying he does not have to be to be used, or think he was used, as a deliverer. The Frazer/Loyalist absolute stance on Romans 13 as the infallible word of God is looking worse and worse when other stories in the Bible and, despite what he says, HISTORY seem to contradict it. Locke's interpretation of Romans 13 and his political theology that was at the heart of the Declaration of Independence is looking more and more reasonable, from a biblical perspective, by the moment. No satire needed.