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.
- Who is God?
Almighty God, Father, Son, and Spirit, is the only true God.
- 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.
- Where do human rights originate?
All human rights originate from outside our created order, and are grounded in the transcendent will of the Creator.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- How many of these governments are absolute?
Only the government of God is absolute. No human government is or can be absolute.
- 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.
- Why must human governments confess the only true God?
Because reluctance to do so demonstrates a lust to be the only true God.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- What is liberty?
Liberty is the privilege of living under the blessing of God, with freedom to worship Him in accordance with His Word.
- What rights has God consequently given to us?
God has given us the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- On whom does it place this obligation?
Upon everyone—on the one who possesses the right in question, and upon all others as well.
- Are there two rival conceptions of rights?
Yes. One conception of rights liberates a people, while the other conception of rights enslaves them.
- 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.”
- 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.
- What is tyranny?
Tyranny is arbitrary government, detached from the authority of the Creator.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- So then, is the confession Jesus is Lord the foundation of all true liberty?
Yes. It is Christ or chaos.
- 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.
- 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.