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Our Freedom Depends on Originalism

Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar. (Prov. 30:5-6)

It is no secret that in recent years our nation has become more and more politically polarized. Some claim that this division is even reflected in the makeup of our U.S. Supreme Court. Some of the more liberal justices have what is called a “living constitution” view of the U.S. Constitution, while others subscribe to the “originalist” approach. The idea of a “living constitution” is that judges should not be bound to the letter of this document as written, but should take into account the evolving needs of our society and adapt constitutional language to accommodate modern circumstances. “Originalists” counter that the only job of the judicial branch of government is to apply the laws as written. They argue that it is the legislative branch that is responsible for changing the laws when necessary, and that if the Constitution needs to be updated, there is an amendment process to accomplish that.

There are many who view the “living constitution” approach with alarm. They are apprehensive about the idea that their freedoms can be eroded by unelected judges who impose laws based on their own personal convictions, rather than on our nation’s founding documents.

While this may be a legitimate fear, it is not the biggest threat to freedom that we face. The larger threat has to do with a much more far-reaching freedom, and very little to do with earthly governments. The gravest danger is the sin that lives within each of us, and the damning consequences of that sin apart from the Savior. The liberty that God has bestowed on us is the full and free forgiveness of all sin, given because of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross. Christians need to be acutely aware that retaining this freedom depends on an “originalist” view—not of the U.S. Constitution, but of God’s Word in Holy Scripture.

There are many Bible “scholars,” as well as entire church organizations, who view the Bible as a “living document” in the sense that they think we must adapt what it says to our modern trends and sensibilities. According to this view, the Bible does contain truth, but it is up to us to sift through its contents in order to discover what is true, what is mistaken, and what is mere legend. We see this concept in action when some Christian churches and leaders proclaim, for instance, that a woman ought to have the right to murder her unborn child, that God blesses same-sex marital unions, that Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave, and that faith in Him is not the only way to heaven. These shocking anti-biblical teachings began on a smaller scale, with the denial of the word-for-word inspiration of the Bible. This then grew “like cancer,” as Paul describes false teaching in 2 Timothy 2:17.

When it comes to God’s Word, Jesus was an “originalist.” Of the Old Testament He said, “The Scripture cannot be broken,” ( John 10:35) and “Your word is truth.” ( John 17:17) He commissioned His apostles to record His teachings so that others would hear and believe ( John 14:26, 17:20), and sent His Holy Spirit to see that this was done, word-for-word (2 Peter 1:21).

We thank God for the earthly blessings that we have enjoyed in this great country, the United States of America. We pray that the freedoms which our U.S. Constitution guarantees will continue for many years to come. We also recognize that all earthly powers and governments eventually fail and pass into the dustbin of history. Even then, the most important things, by God’s grace, remain. Therefore, like Jesus and the apostles, we make it our aim to be “originalists” for the truth of God’s verbally-inspired Word. Ultimately, the freedoms we have of forgiveness and life eternal, for us and our children, depend on it!

Bruce Naumann is senior pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.