Monday, February 10, 2014

The Original Original Source

I recently came across some Thomas Jefferson quotes regarding the Constitution (taken from here). One such quote:
On every question of construction, let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
And another quote:
Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.
The gist of it is this: the Constitution is a historical document which had a history behind it. We are to understand the Constitution not according to how later generations defined it, but to how its writers defined it. We are not to read backwards in history and force our current situation into the Constitution, but we are to look forward in history, and see what led up to the formation of the Constitution. Most of all, we are to hold everything by the wording of the Constitution and what the Constitution says, not how we choose to define it.

There are many Christians today who would gladly adhere this way to the Constitution...but not to the Bible. They would never take uncritically what a modern-day Democrat said about the Constitution and what it means, and yet they would gladly accept uncritically what someone a few hundred years after the writing of the last books of the Bible said. They would never accept what a politician a hundred years after the writing of the Constitution had to say about it if it contradicted the context and historical background of the document, and yet they would gladly accept words and explanations which clearly contradict the Bible. Once I was asked by someone if I believe a Christian can lose their salvation - I said no, to which they asked, "Oh, then you disagree with what such-and-such Church Father said?" I replied, "I agree with what Jesus said."

Obviously we should read the works of men who come after a document - don't mistake my words here as a certain extreme. As I wrote before, we should not dismiss all Church Fathers, Reformers, modern theologians, etc. Many of them have wonderful insight. However, we need discernment, and we need scripture to be our source for discernment. If scripture says x, and a later theologian says y, we should immediately accept x. When we see a later theologian handling a theological subject, or looking at a passage of scripture, we should ask ourselves, honestly, "Is this person treating the scriptural passage/the teaching of scripture with honesty and clarity?" If we find something lacking or contradictory, we should dismiss it - it is as simple as that.

Next time you want to treat the Bible solely through the lens of later generations - be it 200 years after Christ or 2000 years after Christ - just ask yourself, "Would I treat the Constitution this way?"