Guard the Constitution

Whether defending the Bible or the Constitution, Christians should fight to preserve the authors’ intentions.
Judges in our system of governance have always been invested with the responsibility of ensuring new laws and the application of existing law fits within the constraints of the constitution; the current regime disproportionately expands that role by asking the question, "Does the Constitution only mean what it says?"

God's people have been dealing with this core question from the very beginning—the serpent asked Eve in the garden, "Did God really say … ?" Since that time, the authority of the Word of God has sustained perpetual assault.

Prior to 600 years ago, average Christians were dependent upon the Catholic Church to learn the Scriptures. As a result, the stabilizing core of Christian belief and practice grew away from the actual teachings of the Bible and increasingly became the teachings of the Church. The elite believed their interpretations and applications of the Bible to be as authoritative as Scripture.

As a result, the role of the Bible was increasingly weakened. The Word of God no longer meant what it meant when it was written. To form an opinion about Scripture, you first had to be educated in other people's opinions. Often, established positions held the same weight as the original text.

It took a popular revolution within the church, the Protestant Reformation, to address the problem. Martin Luther and others risked their lives to make the Bible available to common people. The Protestants weren't seeking to abolish the clergy, but to address their misuse of power. The people were correcting the hierarchy's agenda of magnifying themselves and diminishing the Bible.

At the start of the 20th century, we faced the problem again. Liberal theologians began telling the church that you need a pedigree to understand the Bible. The upshot was the same: the authority of Scripture was threatened by an elitist group. It seemed as if our old mainline churches increasingly taught the Bible as merely one tool in the religious toolbox, not superior to scholarly postulation or personal experience.

It took another reformation to correct the problem and defend the authority of Scripture. Forbears of modern evangelicalism rallied people around the idea that the Bible is personally relevant and supremely authoritative. Today, all of the church movements around the world that are growing are evangelical, while the old liberal churches are all in decline.

As a high view of the Bible is central to Christian theology and practice, so a high view of our Constitution is the core to the rule of law. I'm not arguing that the Constitution is an inspired document. I do, though, believe that in practice a high view of the Scriptures in church life is as important to the success of the church, as a high view of the Constitution is vital to our freedoms.

The controversy over Supreme Court nominee John Roberts reveals that our nation has a similar problem. Judges who advocate a "living Constitution" are imposing their preferences on the American people. They believe their opinions, with reference to international law or the laws of other countries, to be as authoritative as the text itself. That will derail America as quickly as a Christian minister quoting from the Bible while giving equal authority to their own views and to religious books from alternative faiths.

The message from a liberal jurist is: "We know what the Constitution means, so you shouldn't trouble yourself; times have changed. The founding document no longer means what it meant when it was written; to form an opinion about the law, you first have to be educated in other people's opinions; established positions hold the same weight as the original text."

We've been here before, and we know the answer. We can't do what we did in the church: have a popular revolution. We must, instead, ensure that those who sit on the bench have a high view of the Constitution and will voluntarily limit themselves to the words actually in the document rather than their views of what the Constitution should say.

Simply put, we work to ensure that those teaching the Bible actually respect the Bible. Let's do the same thing on the Supreme Court. Let's ensure that those who are commissioned to apply the Constitution to our laws actually respect the Constitution themselves.

Ted Haggard pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

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