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If the Constitution is a Living Document It’s Really a Dead Document

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If the Constitution is a Living Document It's Really a Dead DocumentA Living Document Might Say Anything

A lot of us have complained about the blatant disregard shown by the courts for the Constitution. We read daily of the latest abuses. Protection for abortion was somehow found in the text along with support for welfarism, world-wide militarism, and for a never-ending drug war. Those who have read the founding documents are astonished at each breach of hermeneutical etiquette as the court’s decisions grow ever distant from the original intent of the authors. It seems to me however, that the abuses of language, text, and intent by the courts are all presaged, even rooted in, the church’s similar treatment of God’s word, or perhaps more apropos, God’s law.

Political and religious conservatives are alarmed and amused when the Supreme Court justices write with serious demeanor that their decision was based upon “penumbras” and “emanations” found floating hither and tither between the actual words of our Constitution. We wonder how these distinguished individuals could possibly be so dopey. Assuredly it did not come from applying God’s law to the conflicts of men.

The Responsibility of the Church

At every point when we see our modern (post enlightenment) judges making their wacky judgments we should be thinking about how we, the church, showed them the path from relative light to their present darkness. We were, after all, the bearers of moral civilization. It was the church that emphasized the importance of words and language skills of every manner. We were the ones who created a whole western culture that nurtured respect for the written arts. It was no mistake that Guttenberg’s first book was a Bible.

Living Documents—The Bible & the Constitution

The trail from that wiser age to the present confusion began with the corruption of our own theology. It spread through the larger society and has parked itself in the courts. We trace liberal judicial interpretations to men like Oliver Wendell Holms Jr. (1841-1935) or later on to Thurgood Marshall. But prior to their rise came a fairly broad based church acceptance of liberal theology. The famed Friedrich Schliermacher (1768-1834) taught that religion consists essentially in a “feeling of absolute dependence.” Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889) said that faith came not from facts but from value judgments. Both men had departed far from Christian orthodoxy with their well published opinions but much of the church in both Europe and America trotted along after them. When the church gave up the exacting standards for interpretation of its Scriptures the rest of the world copied us by applying liberal language principles to other areas of study, particularly that of law. The whole liberal mindset came rushing in. The abandonment of the search for truth and justice litters the field with judicial garbage.

The Bible & the Law in Early America

When asked what should be used for law in the new state of Pennsylvania William Penn is said to have answered, “The Bible;” the idea being that exacting principles for justice could best be found there. Appeals to other courts or systems of law were unnecessary since Pennsylvania courts could always go directly to the original source for principles of justice. No present governor would answer the question that way today.

Having thrown out the Book of truth the courts now do as they must to find a new anchor however deep they must dredge. Stare Decisis has fast become that supposed anchor in the drifting sea called jurisprudence. Stare Decisis (the original ancient Latin term meant, “a recipe for deep sea drilling mud” or something like that. I will have someone check) is the practice of reviewing settled court cases to find the principles to adjudicate new cases. Since the Bible has become unreliable in the public mind where else do they have to go? They no longer look for absolute justice. Why should they? The church does not even believe in that, at least not the liberal church, and they have all the voice in public forums. What can we complain about? The larger church insisted that God’s word might mean anything, there is no discernible law, and original intent cannot be discovered. The world believed us and applied our philosophy to their courts.

Living Documents Have No Fixed Meaning

Over the past couple of decades it has become popular to refer to the Constitution as a “living document.” The term comes from the title of a book first published in 1937. By “living document” liberal humanists mean that the Constitution has no fixed meaning. They say that language and people change. The needs of people change and our interpretations must adapt to present circumstances. Ultimately this means that the original document has no direct usefulness and can be ignored. My conclusion then is that the term “living document” really means “dead document” in a classic example of liberal newspeak. I suspect that if the original ‘living document’ which the Apostle said was “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” had been given a higher place in the church that the Constitution would have retained a higher place in the courts.

Return Justice to the Land!

As it is it appears the battle for truth and justice has gone to the hand of the enemy. We need to be encouraged though because we, empowered by our God, are destined to victory. The prophet Isaiah’s book is about the restoration of all things. In the first chapter starting at verse twenty-six we are promised,

Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning . . . Zion will be redeemed with justice.

It is our duty to restore God’s Word as the standard for truth wherever we can. As we obey Him He will strengthen us for the work and return justice to the land. We continue to pray for the restoration of all things.

This article was first published in Every Thought Captive magazine, 2010.

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