A Liberty Catechism

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Below I have arranged 52 questions on the nature of liberty as biblically understood. If parents work through these questions with their children, memorizing one a week, by the end of that year, their children may serve as something of a bright spot on our otherwise dark horizon.

I am crowd sourcing editorial suggestions on this one, so comments are open. I want to keep the number at 52, so keep that in mind if you have suggested additions or deletions. Helpful ideas from trolls will be courteously but assiduously ignored. Update: I have incorporated a number of your suggestions, and thanks much for them.

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom”—John Adams.

  1. Who is God?

Almighty God, Father, Son, and Spirit, is the only true God.

  1. What is this God’s relationship to the created order?

God is the uncreated Creator of all things, and as such He is the sole giver of all our rights and liberties.

  1. Where do human rights originate?

All human rights originate from outside our created order, and are grounded in the transcendent will of the Creator.

  1. Why is this important to understand?

If such were not the case, then we would have no rights, only privileges granted to us by fellow creatures who at the moment are stronger than we are. Whatever they give, they could also take away.

  1. Why is God to be trusted as the governor of the world?

As the Creator of all things, He has the sole right to determine the ultimate destiny of any creature or created thing.

  1. What is the foundational government that God has established among men?

The foundational government is self-government, or self-control, which is a fruit of the Spirit.

  1. Why was it necessary for God to give this gift?

Because of the rebellion of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we were born into a state of slavery, a slavery to our passions and desires.

  1. What is the nature of slavery to sin?

A slave to sin wants freedom from responsibility and maturity. He consequently wants freedom from the consequences of his actions.

  1. Is widespread slavery to sin consistent with political or social freedoms?

No. Political and social freedoms are only possible for a religious, moral and virtuous people. They are “wholly unfit for any other.”

  1. What two blessings does constitutional government hold in balance?

The two great values of constitutional government are form and freedom together, such that the people enjoy the blessings of both structure and liberty.

  1. How does liberation from this slavery to sin come about?

Through the objective truth of the gospel, that being the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and this gospel is apprehended subjectively by faith alone, by faith from first to last.

  1. What are the three governments among men that God has directly established?

They are the government of the family, the government of the civil order, and the government of the church.

  1. Are there other human governments besides these three?

These are the only three established directly by God. Other human governments exist, and are certainly lawful, but they merely have a human authority—clubs, teams, societies, and so on.

  1. What are the responsibilities of these three governments?

Respectively, the family is the ministry of health, education, and welfare, the civil government is the ministry of justice, and the church is the ministry of Word and sacrament.

  1. How many of these governments are absolute?

Only the government of God is absolute. No human government is or can be absolute.

  1. How are they to be kept from thinking of themselves as absolute?

Human government must confess the only true God, and the Christ whom He has sent. If there is no God above a human government, then that human government will want to deify itself. So kings and princes must kiss the Son.

  1. Why must human governments confess the only true God?

Because reluctance to do so demonstrates a lust to be the only true God.

  1. Should we trust them to make this confession, or hold to it if they have made it?

No. Because all men are sinners, we must constantly guard against the tendency to abuse power, a temptation that all those who are entrusted with such power will face.

  1. How should we guard against this kind of abuse in the civil realm?

We must divide up the functions of government, and assign them to different branches and/or levels of government.

  1. What are the basic limitations that should be placed on civil government?

They are the constitutional limitations of enumerated powers, the separation of powers between the legislative, judicial, and executive, and the hierarchy of powers found in federalism.

  1. What is meant by enumerated powers?

This means that the government possesses only those powers that are expressly granted to it by the constitutional framework. Any power not mentioned is a power not granted.

  1. What is meant by separation of powers?

It means that the basic functions of government—making laws, interpreting laws, and enforcing laws—are entrusted to different institutions within one government.

  1. Is this all?

No. In addition, to prevent a helter-skelter approach to the making of laws, the legislative body should be divided into two houses, to make the process of legislation more deliberative.

  1. What is meant by a hierarchy of powers?

All magistrates, whether at the county level, municipal level, or state level, hold their position in trust from God. This means they provide an additional balance to the authority of the national government.

  1. Is this constitutional form of governmental consistent with arbitrary rule by regulation through executive agencies?

No. All forms of arbitrary government are antithetical to a biblical form of governance.

  1. How does the character of God affect the laws that He gives to mankind?

God is immutable, and God is holy. This means that law that is grounded in His character will be law that is fixed and unchangeable, and is law that will necessarily be good.

  1. How does the character of man affect the laws that he seeks to give to mankind?

Man is changeable, like water, and he is a sinner, unholy. This means that law that is grounded in his character will be constantly shifting, and will be corrupt and unholy.

  1. What is liberty?

Liberty is the privilege of living under the blessing of God, with freedom to worship Him in accordance with His Word.

  1. What rights has God consequently given to us?

God has given us the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.

  1. What is entailed in the right to life?

The right to life means that the life of every person as created in the image of God is to be respected as inviolate, and is not to be taken, except as a sentence passed by a lawful court operating within the framework of biblical justice, or taken in the course of a just war, or as a direct and clear matter of defending others or one’s self.

  1. What is entailed by the right to liberty?

The right to liberty means the right to pursue any activity not proscribed as criminal by the law of God.

  1. What is entailed by the right of property?

Basic property rights are foundational to all human rights. The right to property means that a man is free to buy, sell, bequeath, inherit, trade, or invent, and to own and keep the profits from his industry or good fortune.

  1. Does this mean there is an upper limit on the power of civil government to tax?

Yes. When the government seeks to tax at a rate of 10% or higher, this means that the government is seeing itself as a rival to God. Taxes should be less than the tithe that God requires of us.

  1. What specific rights are entailed under these three headings?

Rights such as the right to freely assemble, or to free expression, or to keep and bear arms, or to be secure in our possessions, are all specific instances of, and protections for, the right to life, liberty, and property.

  1. What role does the civil magistrate have with regard to our rights?

The civil magistrate does not grant us our rights, which come to us from God alone. The magistrate, however, must recognize, honor and protect our rights, just as all other creatures must do.

  1. How are rights and obligations related?

If a man has a right to something, then all other men have an obligation to recognize and honor that right. Every right comes with a corresponding obligation.

  1. On whom does it place this obligation?

Upon everyone—on the one who possesses the right in question, and upon all others as well.

  1. Are there two rival conceptions of rights?

Yes. One conception of rights liberates a people, while the other conception of rights enslaves them.

  1. What are two examples of such rival rights?

One would be the right to own property, and a rival example would be the “right to free dental care.”

  1. How does the concept of “corresponding obligation” illustrate the difference between these rival kinds of rights?

In the first instance, all others must respect his right to property by not stealing from him. This is not a burdensome or expensive requirement. But the second instance requires the conscription of dentists, or the conscription of those who must pay for the dentists.

  1. What is tyranny?

Tyranny is arbitrary government, detached from the authority of the Creator.

  1. What is the duty of Christian citizens when confronted by tyranny?

It is the right and the responsibility of every Christian to resist tyranny as it arises.

  1. How may we resist tyranny?

In the first instance we may do so by preaching, protest, or legal action. In the second instance, we may do so by fleeing. And in the final extremity, we may do so by taking up arms, but for defensive purposes only.

  1. How may lesser magistrates resist tyranny?

As lesser magistrates (such as commissioners, mayors, and governors) really don’t have the option of fleeing, their resistance will be limited to protest and legal action, and taking up defensive arms.

  1. Do a Christian people have the right to resist tyranny directly themselves?

In an extremity, yes. But we are Christians, not anarchists, and we should seek to locate our resistance under the authority of lesser magistrates whenever possible.

  1. As we seek to establish our rights on the firm foundation of the will of God, how is that will to be ascertained?

From two sources. The first source is from the Scriptures as God’s special revelation to us. Our second source is natural revelation—how God created the natural world, together with our consciences that instinctively recognize how He made the world.

  1. Does this understanding of liberty disregard the need for a separation of church and state?

No. Church and state are distinct governments, and as such should be kept distinct and separate as institutions. But it is not possible to separate any state from the prevailing worldview of the people, and as Christians our desire is for that prevailing worldview to be Christian.

  1. Why is it important to our liberties for that prevailing worldview to be Christian?

Because it was the widespread acceptance of the Christian faith that recognized these liberties in the first place, and it has been the erosion of Christianity that has resulted in the subsequent erosion of our rights.

  1. What are the consequences for our rights if the prevailing worldview is that of secular atheism?

In such a scenario, our rights evaporate. Bits of protoplasm, the end product of time and chance acting on matter, that crawled out of a primordial swamp, and later climbed down from trees, don’t have rights.

  1. So then, is the confession Jesus is Lord the foundation of all true liberty?

Yes. It is Christ or chaos.

  1. Are all these ideas a novelty, unique to this generation?

No. They are grounded in Scripture, and have been articulated ably for at least five centuries in Protestant resistance theory. This catechism is simply a summary of this historic theological tradition.

  1. What is to prevent them from seeming like a novelty?

Leaders in the evangelical and Reformed church must be true to the Scriptures, true to their theology, and true to their heritage. They must live up to what we have already attained.

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Jon
Jon
1 month ago

Thank you Doug for another great resource! Be sure to let us know when Canon will be publishing this. I would love to buy a 100 of them to give to the church that I serve. …and I know you all are running on all cylinders, but given our current climate, the sooner the better. And God Bless it unto a thousand generations!

Lindsey Doolan
Lindsey Doolan
1 month ago

The answer to Q. 17 makes me want to ask a followup question about Islamic societies (for instance). They don’t acknowledge the one true God, but at least on the surface, they’re also not worshipping self. How do they fit into this framework?
Maybe the answer could be changed to clarify whether there’s another possible root reason for not acknowledging the one true God (you’re worshipping a false god), or to explain that worshipping a false god is at root another form of self-worship?

Colin
Colin
1 month ago

For questions 38-40, these ‘rival rights’ sound like negative rights (freedom to have property not belonging to others – such as owned land) and positive rights (freedom to own the property of others – such as free dental care) to me. Perhaps that would be a more distinct way to reference them?

Tim Roach
Tim Roach
1 month ago

I can imagine this “nature of liberty” catechism developing into a document that can be used for generations to come. That being said I believe question 52 should be written in a form that would fit the generation a 100 years from now. Basically reworking the questions to ask a question similar to, “What will happen and has happened if we don’t teach these principles?”
Blessings
Tim

Nathan Tuggy
Nathan Tuggy
1 month ago

20 and still more so 23 seem to have some oddly-specific points in them. While the separation of powers in some robust form is essential to any limited government, it is not obvious that the precise legislative/executive/judicial division we chose at the American founding is the only or even the best such separation. Still less is the House/Senate division an essential, unchangeable component of any justly limited government. It’s a decent enough idea, and it’s certainly been extremely useful on many occasions, but it may well be possible to use some stricter or more streamlined arrangement to give similar or… Read more »

Steve Carr
Steve Carr
1 month ago
Reply to  Nathan Tuggy

yes, an approach based on the principles rather than the specific American practices would have braoder applicability, but even so the American specifics can serve as an example and a springboard to discussion of the principles.

Gray
Gray
1 month ago
Reply to  Nathan Tuggy

The way that I remember the three branches (judicial, legislative, executive) of U.S. Constitutional divisions of power is Isaiah 33:22: “For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king;”

Nathan Tuggy
Nathan Tuggy
1 month ago
Reply to  Gray

I’d certainly agree that having at least those three branches is a good basis and well-supported. But the specifics of how that works out is more complicated (take, for example, not only the House and Senate, but also the separate state and federal court hierarchies, plus the complex way the legislative and executive branches have metastasized into the bureaucracy and deep state). Must we put the armed forces under the executive branch, or is there another arrangement that maintains them under civilian control while splitting power more effectively? And so on.

San Diego Dave
San Diego Dave
1 month ago
Reply to  Nathan Tuggy

@Nathan Tuggy – I think you’ve effectively made Doug’s point. If Judge, Lawmaker, and King are the bare minimum, then we can hash out all the other details like the military or circuit courts later, but the answer to Q20 would be the correct one. I don’t think Doug is necessarily denying that we could have a 4th branch (maybe by splitting the Executive into multiple functions, for example), just that these 3 functions are essential and must be separated as opposed to unified in one person/entity. I’ll mostly agree with you on Q23 though. I think the basic principle… Read more »

daniel peterson
daniel peterson
1 month ago

Sources and references would be helpful in understanding what is meant by these necessarily terse statements. Also, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property” seems to imply that property is happiness. Perhaps more could be said on the Biblical relationship between liberty and property and the evil that will result when we are all reduced to share-croppers on Bill Gates’ plantation.

Steve Carr
Steve Carr
1 month ago

“Property” was the original, not “happiness”. “Happiness” was substituted in the Declaration to assuage certain Founders’ concerns over hereditary aristocracy and abuses thereof. A right to property is the correct usage and is correctly derived scripturally and naturally. Doug, can obviously answer for himself if he intended something else (or more) or otherwise disagrees.

H Barry Durmaz
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Carr

As is true with so many words and their underlying ideas, there is the wrong idea of happiness and the right idea of happiness. Happiness as being pleasure-oriented is sin (lawless). Happiness as exercising your God-delegated individuality, character, interests, values, skill, etc. is evidence that my life is a worship unto my Creator. When we understand the gospel is a perfect law of liberty to do or not to do a given thing, to use or not to use a given word, then we will be found maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Then we… Read more »

John D
John D
1 month ago

Looks great! It would be nice to have at least one scripture citation attached to each answer however. Perhaps a good project for the commenters since Doug has already obviously put a lot of work into this.

Steve Carr
Steve Carr
1 month ago
Reply to  John D

I’m hoping he turns it into a book with 52 chapters!

Kat
Kat
1 month ago

I agree that scripture references would really help – we link catechisms with relevant scripture when teaching the kids

Robbie
Robbie
1 month ago

Where do human rights originate?
All human rights originate from outside our created order, and are grounded in the transcendent will of the Creator.

Source?
I see responsibilities to obey God’s law in Scripture, but not inherent rights due to fallen man as a result of his mere existence. Please point me in the direction of Scriptures that I have missed that outline rights and not responsibilities.

Mrs L
Mrs L
1 month ago
Reply to  Robbie

I can’t answer question fully, and am also interested in this topic.
However, property rights are inherently assumed in the 8th and 10th commandment, and the right to life in commandment 6.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
1 month ago
Reply to  Robbie

You’re rephrasing the same concept. A right is nothing more than a universal obligation for other people not to do X to you. The Bible demands all people, everywhere, not steal. Consequently, you have a right not to be robbed. The only distinction between a “right” and a “responsibility” is whether or not you’re talking about the prospective criminal or the prospective victim.

Robbie
Robbie
1 month ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

I know that’s generally the argument for property rights, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that because no one can steal, then everyone has a right to property. Especially when you consider that “…the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” and fallen man is at enmity with God. What right does an unbeliever have to own property? What if he plans to use a plot of land to build a baby killing center and the government of the state says doing such a thing is lawful? Of course we know that baby killing isn’t lawful. Which in this case… Read more »

San Diego Dave
San Diego Dave
1 month ago
Reply to  Robbie

@Robbie – The answer to this would be in several of the other questions, namely that governments must confess the one true God, and that all laws should come from the character of God. God has granted you a right to property, but has not granted you a right to sin, or sinfully misuse your property. A just, God-confessing government would not allow abortion clinics to be built and would put in jail someone who kills a baby, but that doesn’t entail that the person did not have a God-given right to own a plot of land in the first… Read more »

DJ
DJ
1 month ago

Add to answer 30, “, or defense of others.”

Jon
Jon
1 month ago
Reply to  DJ

That would be a good addition.

Steve Carr
Steve Carr
1 month ago

Doug, you have written an exellent table of contents for your next book… it works very well as the catechism you intended and will be an excellent teaching tool, but an expanded version would also be quite valuable.

Juan Sebastian
Juan Sebastian
1 month ago

Is there any difference betwen the Christian worldview and the Worldview of Classical Liberalism present in the founding of USA? Could we mix the two? or ‘christianize’ C. Liberalism? What is our position as protestans to C. liberalism? are this two worldviews compatible?

Pierre Queripel
Pierre Queripel
1 month ago

I suggest a fuller answer to question 1. For instance, the New City Catechism’s answer drawing from the WSC:
God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.

Garth Thomas
Garth Thomas
1 month ago

When will this catechism be out in book form?

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
1 month ago

Pastor Wilson is a genius! These are needful… And many men and women will benefit from these… The Lord is merciful.

Tyson
Tyson
1 month ago

This is awesome, can’t wait to put this to use. Why is self-government not included?

Steve
Steve
1 month ago

To broaden the application to all governments it might be better to say “political/social freedoms” rather then “constitutional freedoms.”

Steve
Steve
1 month ago

#10, perhaps “structure/order” rather than “form”?

Steve
Steve
1 month ago

#12, four, rather than three? Add the truth of #6 at the beginning, the individual.

J. J. Griffing
J. J. Griffing
1 month ago

As others have noted, some of these could be polished a bit, but more than one of us would love to see the Liberty Catechism published in more-than-blog-post form. What can we do for you to make this happen?

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

I would like to propose an addition/amendment to #30.

as a direct matter of self-defense or the direct defense of others

Jon
Jon
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben

Agreed

Andrew
Andrew
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben

I’m not sure how to ask this question so please bear with me:

Wouldn’t defense of others even be superior to defense of self? If an individual is among the elect, his death would mean entering into the presence of God. In defense of self, shouldn’t we prefer the aggressor if we have no dependents*, given the agressor’s opportunity for salvation and the assurance of our own? (Consider Saul –>Paul)

*If we have no wife or children…

Tim
Tim
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew

While I might feel (as a believer) that I have the ‘right’ to prefer an attacker over myself, my lack of dependents doesn’t free me from an obligation to defend society in general. If I allow an aggressor to kill me, that frees him up to attack others (who might be less courageous or able to resist) now that I am out of the way. That is one possible argument against preferring an aggressor.

Andrew
Andrew
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim

That argument doesn’t bear out under reason and scripture. Defense of self and others requires instantaneous necessity, this sounds more like a matter of justice, which is reserved for the King and through Him to Civil government.

Nathan Tuggy
Nathan Tuggy
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim

This appears to be assuming certain specific kinds of scenarios, such as mass shooters. But those are very rare, even for deadly threats, and in any case the defense of others that is the immediate subject of the previous comments includes, by definition, defending nearby strangers who are clearly in danger from some wild attacker. So, in short, if there was anyone near enough and likely enough to be attacked once you are out of the way, there is already a way to understand your duty without needing to suddenly prioritize self or bring in novel (and misplaced) ideas of… Read more »

Alison
Alison
1 month ago

First off, THANK YOU. I will be using this as copywork with our homeschool group’s worldviews through literature class this fall. Will there be a booklet available?

On #9, the sentence structure of the question would align better with the answer if it were phrased:

Are constitutional freedoms consistent with widespread slavery to sin?

No. Constitutional freedoms are only possible for a religious, moral and virtuous people. The are “wholly unfit for any other.”

And who are you quoting here?

bionic mosquito
1 month ago

There is a big hole in the list where the ideas of natural law ethics and natural rights should be placed. Not merely the concepts, which are partially included in the list, but the terms. The terms offer a robustness beyond what a concise list can offer. There is no chance for liberty without a natural law ethic respected – with love of God and love of one’s neighbor as man’s highest purpose. Different from natural rights, of which I have only in my person and justly acquired property – also gifts of God. Natural law commands me to be… Read more »

RMB
RMB
1 month ago

I second the addition of “natural law” to the descriptions where created order is mentioned. It has an important position in historical Christian philosophy, but has been largely abandoned to our detriment.

Aaron
Aaron
1 month ago

Is there a link to a PDF? I’m a man and genetically predisposed to looking poorly for things.

Jay
Jay
1 month ago

 2.   What is God’s relationship to the created order?
God is the uncreated Creator and self-existing Sustainer of all things. As Creator, He divided, ordered and bounded all things, giving each that role and function He determined.
 3.   Where do human rights originate?
Being created for community under God and in His image, mankind has duties toward God and one another and liberties in regard to one another. These liberties are called rights and, being God-given, originate from outside the created order and are inalienable, being grounded in the transcendent will of the Creator.

Dale
Dale
30 days ago

This is great! It pairs well with Verna Hall & Rosalie Slater’s “Red Books”.
https://face.net/the-red-books/

John Cook
John Cook
25 days ago

Oh, no! Now I have to decide between Doug Wilson’s and Toby Sumpter’s (https://www.tobyjsumpter.com/a-catechism-on-the-governments-50-questions-answers/)!