It may seem unusual to preach a sermon to someone who is not present, and this would be odd if the church were contained and enclosed by her four walls. But Scripture teaches that the church is a city on a hill, with the whole world invited to look on, and that there are times when the prophets must speak directly to the princes. This is one of those times.
What we have to say is located in the context of our worship service, but its applicability is much broader than that, and so this morning we have a word to declare to the honorable Gov. “Butch” Otter, governor of Idaho, together with the legislators of the Idaho House and Senate. You have a grave responsibility before you now, and it is our responsibility, as Christians and as citizens of this state, to remind you of it, and to plead with you in the name of God to take this responsibility up.
I am speaking of the recent Supreme Court decision which upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare on spurious grounds, and I need to address what the ramifications of this are, both for you and for us, the residents of this state.
“And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things” (Acts 17:6-8).
Summary of the Text:
In the verses just prior to this, the residents of Thessalonica had heard the gospel preached through Paul, and the old guard, the church establishment, was envious of their success. Moved by that envy, they did what envy in motion always does—they stirred up trouble with the people and rulers (v. 8), saying that the apostles were going clean contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there was another king besides Caesar, one going by the name of Jesus.
Now the claims of Christ are inevitably political, but this is not the same thing as being partisan. Paul and his friends were being accused of being partisan, with all their political language being interpreted in that way. They were accused falsely, but the accusation was not made out of thin air. The accusation of partisanship was fashioned out of the necessarily political nature of the gospel.
So we must distinguish between the church getting involved in partisan disputes, which is prohibited to us, not so much by the IRS as by Scripture, and the church getting involved in political issues, which is absolutely necessary. Unless someone figures out a way to separate morality and state—which cannot be done—there will be no way to separate the faithful church’s prophetic voice from the determinations and actions of the state.
Some might say that this distinction between partisan and political is just a self-serving distinction. “Since when do partisan pronouncements not count as partisan pronouncements? In what universe does that happen?” I don’t know—perhaps in the universe where the Supreme Court determines a penalty is not a tax so that they can hear the case, and then decide in the course of their deliberations that the penalty is too a tax. But I run ahead of myself.
If this were a partisan thing, we would conveniently overlook the fact that Gov. Romney in fact pioneered this particular form of legislative corruption in Massachusetts while he was governor there, and we would be pretending that the chief justice responsible for this travesty wasn’t a Republican nominee to the court. Partisanship would draw the lines in any way that was advantageous to a particular party or faction, or a particular candidate, and always with a weather eye on the next election. But this is not an issue of right or left, but rather a simple matter of right and wrong.
Now there are some who want to use the language of “Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar,” but this is done in the spirit of a theological trendiness that wants Jesus to sign off on various forms of soft socialism—strewing money in every direction like roses out of a hat. “Free chocolate milk for everybody! Jesus said.” This is not that—this is the real deal. Just as John the Baptist told Herod he could not have the wives of others, we are saying that our government cannot have the lives of others. Just as Elijah told Ahab that he had no right to Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:17-18), so we must say to the federal government that they have no right to ransack the livelihoods of our great grandchildren. Scripture does not say, “Thou shalt not steal, unless it clears both chambers and the president signs it with a large number of pens.” Some people believe that it is not theft if you have to fill out a form, but we are not among that number.
The border between church and state can be transgressed in either direction. King Uzziah went into the Temple with a censer, and when the faithful priests resisted him, that was not the same thing as them invading his palace (2 Chron. 26:19).The situation we face today was not created by the church intruding into partisan matters; it was caused by the state laying claim to universal sovereignty. Our resistance to such hubris is openly political—Jesus is Lord—but it is not partisan. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, and that reality is not owned or controlled by any party, faction, or ideology.
The Obamacare case was interesting on a number of levels—but that is perhaps a strange way to put it. It was interesting in the way that all calamities are interesting. Volcanoes usually get our attention, and so do swarms of apocalyptic locusts. There is an old Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.”
Limited government does not refer to the size of government, but rather refers to a certain concept of government. Limited government means that vast portions of human life and experience lie outside the business of the civil magistrate, and that everyone, both governors and governed, understand this boundary. False concepts of government will indeed affect the size of the state eventually, but the size is not really the main issue. Size is the symptom, not the cause. The cancer is one thing, and the fever, fatigue, or dizziness is quite another. Limited government recognizes, and rejoices in, its finitude. Government that has metastasized does not.
So in the absence of a functional limiting principle, every act of legislation is a grasping after the serpent’s promise—you shall be as God. Absolutist governments are therefore anti-Christian in principle long before any decisions are made, whether those decisions are good or bad. If the Supreme Court upheld a law that required all of us to carry an umbrella whenever it looked like rain, the issue would not be the umbrella, or the rain, or the accuracy of the weather report, or the wisdom of taking the umbrella on any given occasion, but rather what such overreach revealed about who on earth they think they are.
The Bible requires limited government because any claim to unlimited government by mortals is a spurious claim to Deity. To make such claims is a fatal conceit, and to acquiesce in them is cowardice in the face of such conceit.
This is why believers and despots are always, necessarily, on a collision course. A despot is one who recognizes no functioning authority above him, and a believer is one who knows and confesses that there is a final authority outside and beyond the realm of men, and that this final authority is a functional and functioning authority. This outside authority rules in the affairs of men. Given the nature of the case, at some point a despot is going to demand some form of allegiance that the believer cannot in good conscience render. What the despot requires will seem entirely reasonable to a large number of people . . . just a small pinch of incense to the genius of the emperor. Just a little one.
That is what happened with the early Christians and their obedience to Caesar. They had been obedient to Caesar too, numbered among his best citizens and subjects, but their obedience had built-in limits because Jesus is Lord, and that is why they were on a collision course. The early Christians were not persecuted because they refused to recognize the authority of Caesar. They were persecuted because they refused to acknowledge that Caesar’s authority was absolute, and because they refused to surrender their knowledge that God is enthroned in Heaven, and that He governs in the affairs of men.
The same sort of thing happened to the founders of our republic as well. They were obedient to their king, and bore with his depredations lawfully and patiently for years. They exhausted every legal remedy. But because of their Christian faithfulness, their obedience had built-in limits, and when they came to the point, their final confession was, “No king but Jesus.” By this they did not mean to deny all earthly authorities. They meant to deny, and defy, all earthly authorities that refused to acknowledge that this is what they were—earthly authorities. Heaven rules the earth, and not the other way around.
We are at a similar point, and we are going to be tested in a similar way.
No human authority is absolute—not the authority of the family, not that of the church and not that of the civil government. When any one of those authorities makes a claim that does not admit of boundaries or limits, then the time has come for an intervention. That is where you, our governor, and you, our legislature, come in. This is now your responsibility.
The heart of the problem is that the Supreme Court has now in effect declared that there is no limiting principle in our form of government at the federal level. This means that if we are to live under limited government—the kind of government the Bible requires—that limitation must be enforced at the state and local levels and, failing that, at the level of the church, and failing that, at the level of families and individuals.
Simply repealing Obamacare as a policy matter is no longer enough. Obamacare must be rejected because it is inconsistent with the moral obligation of limited government, and not because it was “unpopular” or “will cost too much.” The problem we are facing is not because of a stupid law. Of course Congress will pass stupid laws from time to time. The problem is the claimed prerogative to a stupidity without limit. We can bear with stupidity from time to time. It is the claim to omnipotent stupidity that has awakened our concern. In a godly form of civil government, we must reject anything that concludes with those fatal words—“without limit.”
Congress is not Jesus, the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and there was no baptism for any of them at the Jordan; there was no fluttering dove that descended. Congress did not die for us, and if Congress were to die, Congress could not rise from the dead. This means that Congress does not own me, or the members of this congregation. We have all been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, and therefore cannot be possessed in this manner by another. We have already been bought with a price—Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Talk about a single payer.
But a man can now go out in the evening to sit on his front porch, and the entire time he is there he is a non-stop emitter of carbon, and also, that entire time, he is not buying health insurance. Neither is this miscreant doing a host of other non-enumerated things which, provided Congress now attaches a tax to it, their coercion is deemed to be fully constitutional.
The Constitution as written is a document of enumerated powers, and this decision formalizes the final inversion of that—anything not mentioned in the Constitution as being the province of Congress can now be added ad libitum by that same Congress, provided they are willing to be coercive about it in and through their powers of taxation. Thomas Jefferson, call your office.
What then? I therefore call upon you, the legislature, and upon you, the governor of our state, to formally reject Obamacare in its entirety, and to do so on biblical, moral, and constitutional grounds. I do not call you to something small, or to perform some sort of gesture, such as opting out of a mere portion of Obamacare, but rather to a root and branch rejection of the whole thing. I am calling you to your duty of nullification, and to your resultant duty to protect the persons, lives, and property of those citizens and residents who accept your offer of protection.
What arguments do I offer for this?
The biblical standard comes first, always. If there is no god above the state, then the state is god. But if there is a God above the state—and there is—then we may rejoice to hear the glorious good news that the state is not god, and may not be allowed to act the part of one.
The God of the Bible is the God of history. He created the heavens and earth, and everything in between, and He created the flow of time in which all of history happens. Not only did He create heaven and earth, and the flow of history, He also remade them all in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus is the King of kings, not the king of a separated transcendent, unknowable realm. He is the Lord of lords, and not a locked-up warden ruling over Neverland. This means that all presidents and kings, all congresses and parliaments, are under His authority. It means His authority is functional and active here, and this means, in its turn, that this space cannot be occupied by any mortal man.
“Jesus is Lord” is a truth for the ages, and a truth for the nations, and a truth for all states and provinces, parishes and counties. It is not an invisible “spiritual” truth that believers can keep hidden behind their eyes and between their ears. It is not mystical and impractical. It is as real as the moral obligation on the part of Idaho to nullify an act of Congress.
Jesus told us, before He left, that all authority in heaven and on earth was now His, and that we in the Church were obligated to disciple the nations, baptizing them, teaching them to obey Him in all things. The very first lesson in teaching the civil authorities to obey Him is to teach them that they cannot be Him. Congress cannot obey Jesus while attempting to be Jesus.
It will not have escaped your notice that none of this is sounding very secular. That is true, it is not. Secular government, which recognizes no personal God over it, no God who reveals Himself, is a government that cannot be a limited government. Secularism is tyranny in the egg. A government that refuses to acknowledge that the rights of her citizens are inalienable because they are God-given is a state that wants to be God. Over time we will see that secularism, pretending to be God, is far more tight-fisted with dispersing human rights than the true God of heaven has been. Secularism is death, and you can see the manifestation of that here in this decision—the death of liberty.
Secularism pretends that it is the friend of religious liberty because it banished all religions from positions of political power, but it is more accurate to say that it has banished all other religions from that place. They have not removed the gods; they have removed all the other gods. Is this secularism the friend of liberty? Consider the bill that is the occasion of this sermon.
A moral argument, taken from natural law, is next. The moral duty to interpose oneself between a bully and his victim does not depend on how big the bully is. What matters is whether you are bigger than the victim is. If you are, meaning you have the means to step in between them, then you must do so. To intervene on behalf of your people will require courage and faith, and things may be chaotic for a time, but less chaotic in the long run than if you leave your people to the follies and predations of these people. These are people who could have taught King George III a thing or two about how to send out swarms of officers to eat out a people’s substance. If you fail to intervene, if you fail to stand up to this bully, then at some point you will have joined forces with the bully, and when everything gets to a breaking point, then it will be a real mess.
This is why we want to see federal lawlessness met by the resistance of a lawful government, duly established, and it is why we want you to see that you have a moral duty of intervening. Christians are not scofflaws. We want to be in submission to the existing authorities, as Paul requires in Romans 13:1-7. We recognize that riotous anarchy is no friend of liberty either, and we do not want to do anything to help bring a state of chaos about. John Calvin, in his great book, The Institutes, taught that in circumstances like this one, we were to appeal to the “lesser magistrates.” That is what we are doing here; that is what we are doing now. You represent us, and you have the means to protect us. In the name of Jesus Christ, I am telling you that you have a moral obligation to use those means on behalf of your people.
The constitutional argument is third. You took an oath to support the Constitution, which is not the same thing as supporting the enemies of it while they undertake to trash that Constitution. I am sorry to get into such arcane political theory—but up is not down, and white is not black. Enumerated powers do not mean unlimited powers. A closed door is not an open door, even if Congress attaches a penalty . . . excuse me, I should have said tax . . . to the continued state of rebellious closure on the part of the door.
The Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution were placed in that document expressly to disallow the very sort of foolishness that is being tolerated now, in open daylight, by apparently sober and judicious citizens, who embrace this insanity as a way of preserving their reputations on the Washington cocktail circuit. One would think that embracing insanity is not the way to keep your reputation unspotted, but that is the way it now goes, apparently. On the east coast, the fumes from Europe are a lot closer.
It is often remarked that the Preamble to the Constitution begins with “We, the people.” At the time, this caused a great deal of concern on the part of Anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry, who wondered loudly who gave them leave to say something like that. But as a result of that controversy, in order to get the Constitution ratified, the Bill of Rights was added. And the preamble to the Bill of Rights makes it clear that it was added through the will of the states. This means that those amendments are in your province. They are talking about you, and they are talking about us, the people. The responsibilities of the federal government are specified, and the resultant restrictions on them are just as specific. Our freedoms are left unspecified, and they are left unspecified on purpose. Among those unspecified freedoms, incidentally, is the liberty to smoke five packs a day with no health insurance. In a free country, people have a right to be stupid.
Those amendments—the 9th and 10th—recognize and assume your right to assert your privileges and responsibilities in this regard. You own property in this house, and you have the right and responsibility to defend that property against burglars from the central government. It would be absurd to say that you had the right to defend your home, unless and until the burglars put on a black robe in order to say that it was their interpretation that that you did not have the right to resist them. Those two locks were put on this door by the Founders to prevent precisely this kind of monstrosity from happening. Who are you going to follow—the locksmiths who installed them, and who left written instructions about it, or the porch climbers who figured out how to jimmy those locks, and reinterpret the written instructions?
The problem with George III was that he belonged to the House of Hanover. The problem with Obama is that he belongs to the House of Handover. When will we learn to just say no?
The outline of what I am urging should be clear by now. But I do not pretend that no arguments can be brought against what I am urging here. There certainly will be, and some, perhaps, with great agitation or anger. No matter—those who use soothing words of flattery in a time like this are no friends of liberty.
First, I have said that Congress is not Jesus, and have grounded this call to resistance on that footing. But some will say that I am being delusional—“Whoever claimed that Congress was Jesus? John Roberts never said, ‘Congress is Jesus.’ What are you going on about?” No, he did not use those words, but this Court decision excluded, by definition, any limiting principle to the power of congressional taxation. That is messianic and delusional.
The fact that we still have some functional liberties in practice does not refute this. If a giant had a large number of prisoners in his dungeon, and he ate half of them, saving the other half for lunch the next day, this should not be seen by the remaining prisoners as a great victory for constitutional liberty. The giant not really being “hungry right now” is not a limiting principle.
Second, one might want to argue that the language of the chief justice on the commerce clause meant that he wished for a limiting principle. That might be true—he may have wished for it—but he most certainly did not protect or establish it. In fact, he says that there is a limit to the taxing power of Congress. He insists upon it, but then refuses to say what that limit is, how we are to define it. or how we are to know when we get to it.
Having read this decision, I have to say that the reasoning in it could make a cat laugh. Chesterton once said that to be wrong, to be carefully wrong, was the mark of decadence. If being carefully wrong is decadence, the mincing regard shown here for enumerated powers, carefully affirmed while trashing the very concept of enumerated powers, is beyond decadence. This is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Chief Justice Roberts presiding.
Under these criteria, just now established by the Court, what could Congress and the president not do to us? Provided they use the coercive power of taxation, what is prohibited to them from the outset? What is off the table? One might say there are limits on them still. Fine. What are they? How can we know?
Keep in mind the fact that democracy is not a limiting principle—democracy is one of the central things that must be limited, as the Founders well knew. Democracy is three coyotes and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.
Third, someone might claim that all this “is old news.” The original intent of the Founders was undone many years ago, and “this clarion call of yours is somewhat late to the battle. You were perhaps too busy working down at President Buchanan’s campaign headquarters, and maybe you haven’t heard the more recent news. . .”
This is actually true with regard to substance, but not with regard to the clarity, visibility, and high-handedness of this issue. Up to this point, much of the degradation of the Founder’s original intent has been a matter of dishonest erosions, back room deals, and Con Law being taught in our law schools with levels of casuistry that would embarrass a 17th century Jesuit. But this monstrosity was done on the fifty yard line during half time at the Super Bowl, and everybody saw it. If we don’t respond appropriately to this outrage now, we frankly deserve everything we will get, death panels and all.
And may I suggest in passing that one of the reasons people want to believe that the battle was over a long time ago is that this results in the very reassuring conclusion that they don’t have to fight in it. If the Constitution is dead, then we don’t have to defend it. If we were outmaneuvered a century ago, then we don’t have to do anything now. It is a risk-free conclusion, and one that often rhymes with cowardice.
Fourth, our objector might say, “you conservatives are so spoiled. You lose one political battle, and you act like the world ended.” I will tell what is spoiled. It is to create a vast system of regulatory chains that your great grandchildren will suffer under, and to do so in such a way that you even make them pay for the chains.
So the issue is not a dumb law, or a simple political loss. The issue is the naked claim to absolute government. If the law had been a wise law, fully paid for, judicious and full of sunshine, and the Supreme Court had upheld it on these same grounds, we should all be just as appalled. If Roberts had upheld the health care law because of the “divine right of kings,” our debates would not be swirling around “individual mandate” or “pre-existing conditions.” We would be saying things like, “What? Kings? What? Divine Right? What?” It is the same kind of thing here—we ought to care far more about the ground of the decision than the decision itself.
So we are not getting into the wisdom of this policy, although it is economic folly. Trying to create goods and services this way—health care included—is like a toddler working all afternoon at the beach, shuttling buckets of salt water stimulus from one end of the beach to the other in an attempt to change the sea level. But folly is one thing, and despotism another. Our concern here is the despotism.
Fifth, a realistic critic might say, “you are trying to accomplish the impossible. The bad guys here are holding all the cards. Your cause is noble, but vain. Forget it. It’s over.” He might say that the basic issues here were “settled, the wrong way, 150 years ago. Stick a fork in it—it’s done.”
This is an objection we can accept. I can well believe it. Reading that decision, I confess that it would take at least 150 years for things to get into this state.
But history is filled with restorations and reformations that seemed impossible at the time. That is why we remember them. No grateful descendants are going to build a monument for us because we called for, and got, “mild improvements.” Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished by men who were prepared to be reasonable. The voices of prudence and caution have always whispered to the reformers that their cause was hopeless. And, of course, this was plausible, because it always was hopeless. But the precondition for reformation is deformation. It has to be a tangled mess in order for reformation courage to manifest itself. Desperate times call for faithful men, and not for the careful men. The careful men come later, and write the biographies of the faithful men, lauding them for their courage.
The Founders pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. That phrase was not put in there by a speechwriter or PR guy. That’s what they were doing. We are not playing beanbag anymore, and I have no doubt that this is going to be a rumble, whatever else it is. I do not know if the states that are showing some resistance now will be willing to maintain that resistance all the way through—but they are called to maintain it nonetheless. That is their obligation and duty before God, and it is your obligation and duty here in Idaho.
If this spark does not cause the tinder to go up in a sheet of flame, there is no tinder left. If this affront does not cause the sons of liberty to rise up, this is because there are no more sons of liberty left. There is more to understanding Sam Adams than drinking a beer named after him.
Our second president, John Adams, once said that our Constitution presupposes a moral and religious people. It is “wholly unfit,” he said, “for any other.” Why is this Constitution wholly unfit for the governance of an immoral and irreligious people? There are many reasons, but one of the foremost is that an immoral and irreligious people—which we in fact have become—are unable and unwilling to defend the biblical concepts of liberty that undergird this document. We can’t even articulate what it means. If someone shows up with the least understanding of it, he frightens us. How can we defend what we cannot understand? And how can we understand liberty if we are still enslaved to their sins?
The great despotic rot that we are dealing with here did not begin in Washington, D.C. The central tyranny is the tyranny of sin, and that tyranny cannot be ended unless and until the people of this nation cry out to God, seeking forgiveness for the sins and iniquities, and put away the idols that they have gathered to themselves. When the people stop blaming everybody else for everything else, and take personal responsibility for their sins, and call upon Jesus to forgive them, then He will forgive them. Having forgiven them, He will also deliver them.
In the meantime, the fight is upon us, and we don’t have the luxury of repenting and then going off to fight at a later and more convenient time. We have to repent while we are fighting, and fight while we are repenting. We have to cry out to God in the midst of the battle, and trust in Him on the fly. We could wish it were otherwise, but this has been done before—“for they cried to God in the battle, and he was intreated of them; because they put their trust in him” (1 Chron. 5:20).
I have been declaring all these things in the name of Jesus. He is the one who was crucified in a public place, buried in a public garden, and who rose from the dead in a very public way. This is the gospel we declare, and if the authorities didn’t want Jesus declared in this way in the public square, then they shouldn’t have crucified Him there. And if they didn’t want Him coming back from the dead, then they should have posted more guards than they did—as if that would have done them any good. That would have just caused more men to be present to fall on their faces as if dead. But this is the story God is telling—Jesus lives and the old guard dies.
But the old guard has a way of trying to sneak back. The old order wants to reassert itself. Because Jesus rose from the dead, all the old pagan despotism cratered. Wherever the gospel goes, those despotisms fall. And whenever the preaching of the gospel languishes, as it has in our country, the old guard sees an opportunity, and tries to creep back in. They miss all those things they used to do, like building pyramids with slaves. Of course they wouldn’t call it slavery now, but rather something like a “Full Employment Public Works Act.”
The answer must be a gospel-driven answer, and because Jesus rose, here is a gospel answer. In the second psalm, after the prophecy of the resurrection, the kings of the earth are told to learn wisdom. The judges of the earth, which would include all of you, are commanded to be instructed (Ps. 2:10). Jesus rose from the dead, and you may not go along with this thing.
Now there may be a temptation to say, “Yes, quite. Some of these principles are worth discussing. But be careful. Let’s make sure this doesn’t get out of hand.” What this sort of principled dithering has to ignore is the fact that things are way out of hand now.