What if I, a visitor to your house, spank your boy as willful scofflaw?

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A glue stick waits conveniently on a book shelf in case a young child needs chastisement.

The Christian critique of Democrats and Republicans might perhaps touch on whether either party in their official platforms mention God.

It might fault Democrats for omitting any reference to God in the platform — and then injecting Him back in amid boos from the chorus — or the way the Republicans put His name into their plank without really caring.

The critique is much more fundamental than turning up our noses over their platforms. It focuses rather on authority and how these people view its scope and source. The Christian critique of the idol of politics points out the proper use of authority. It is regal in its understanding of a substitutionary atonement by Christ and its claims about justice, force and service. Christianity informs the state and the civil magistrate of his duty, and delimits the roles of church and family.

These matters come to mind today partly in light of the filings I read in the Red Bank traffic light litigation in which chancery court judge Frank Brown describes the controversial ordinance as lawful and not ultra vires.

Ultra vires means unauthorized or “beyond the scope of power allowed or granted by a corporate charter or by law.” A rough translation out of the Latin would be ultra = outside and vires = view. Or outside the view of.

If you are a dad, authority is a big issue in your home. Do your sons do as you command? Do they perform a duty to its completion in cheerful respect of your authority? Or do they whine and grumble, as if your requirement were ultra vires? If you are an employer, the upholding of your authority and respect of your person is vital to your enterprise. Internal mutuality creates a good atmosphere with customers and marketplace.

Crimes are, obviously, violations of a rule. They are ultra vires acts as they offend a law or a rule of equity. Coercing an employee into a sexual relationship is a civil offense, an exercise of authority ultra vires. It is legally actionable. Slander violates the eighth commandment against theft, and one can seek redress and restitution against one who damages one’s good name. Perjury is a crime because courts cannot function without the truth. The TBI investigation of prosecutor Steve Bebb focuses on the ultra vires prospect, as it is alleged he acted privately in the state’s name.

A visitor’s reproach

An elder at church, Vaughn Hamilton, explains the right use of authority as follows. Say you invite me into your house and we are sitting over glasses of iced water in your living room. We have a pleasant chat. Suddenly, your son appears and “acts up,” as the saying goes. I clunk down my glass on the coaster, grab the boy, grab a glue stick from over the door jamb, haul him down the hallway to his room and spank him for being disrespectful to his parents.

You are aghast. You rush to intervene — not as against your offspring’s sin, but to wrest from your visitor the authority he has stolen from you.

I have offended because I acted ultra vires. My deed lack lawful basis.  I lack jurisdiction. Without law (juris), I am speaking (diction) simply on my own, without sanction

It’s possible that neither Republicans nor Democrats would berate me for my breach against you. Since my act is a personal affront, they might berate my spanking your son. But in a national scale or in principle neither the Democrats nor the Grand Old Party respects the idea of jurisdiction. If a public good is sought, we will bring it about. Amid a wave of nausea I am reading parts of the Democratic party platform to find a juicy phrase that suggests how the controlling political parties operate.

In a section called “Middle Class Bargain,” there is the following about community colleges.

We Democrats also recognize the economic opportunities created by our nation’s community colleges. That is why the president has invested in community colleges and called for additional partnerships between businesses and community colleges to train two million workers with the skills they need for good jobs waiting to be filled, and to support business-labor apprenticeship programs that provide skills and opportunity to thousands of Americans.

Taxpayer outlays and federal borrowing are converted to “the president has invested in community colleges.” The Dems want a big U.S. role in job training and apprenticeships.

The document touts ObamaCare:

We believe accessible, affordable, high quality health care is part of the American promise, that Americans should have the security that comes with good health care, and that no one should go broke because they get sick. Over the determined opposition of Republicans, we enacted landmark reforms that are already helping millions of Americans, and more benefits will come soon.

If health care insurance is needed, who else to provide it than the federal government, which can run it at a perpetual loss? Family and private arrangements to help a sick person are obstacles to creating a public good and shoring up one new area in which the welfare state operates.

A gospel idea: Proper place, true authority

Political dogmas and ideologies do not make supple distinctions as does Christianity. In contrast, Christianity promotes peace and prosperity because it recognizes how authority works among men and seeks to allow for hierarchy, which arises from differences among men. Men vary in gift, parentage, means and graces.

Rval systems lead to envy, strife, hatred and war, very often based upon some heresy within Christianity itself. Marxism, for example, which projects a nirvana of every man, like an automaton, doing his duty in his place without any external force or pressure — no state, no police, no law. This conception is a heresy of the end times on earth just before the return of Christ in glory.

Nesta Webster, in her book The French Revolution (1919) describes the revolutionaries as men who reject any of the relational distinctions that arise from Christianity. One group, she writes,

abjured Christianity, advocated sensual pleasures,believed in annihilation, and called patriotism and loyalty narrow-minded prejudices incompatible with universal benevolence *** [. T]hey accounted all princes usurpers and tyrants, and all privileged orders as their abettors; they meant to abolish the laws which protected property accumulated by long-continued and successful industry; and to prevent for the future any such accumulation, they intended to establish universal liberty and equality, the imprescriptible rights of man, and as preparation for all this they intended to root out all religion and ordinary morality ***.

In the revolutionary or statist conception, the idea of any policy or deed being ultra vires seems ridiculous.

Connected to the concept of ultra vires is that of standing. I mention it not to confuse matters but because it fleshes things out. Ultra vires implies a sphere of lawful action and a line separating that sphere from a sphere of lawless action. Standing is a party’s right to make a legal claim or seek judicial enforcement of a duty or right, according to Black’s Law Dictionary. If you have standing, you have authority to act. You have liberty of motion. If you have standing, you have business before the bar, if you will.

Lacking standing, I offend

The uproar I cause in your house by spanking your son sinfully usurps your authority. God wants your son chastised. But by you, not by strangers — whether me or an official from a human services department.

Sin is an act beyond the scope of God’s law, an act that contradicts God’s law. My children, in “The First Catechism,” learned that sin is “any thought, word or deed that breaks God’s law by omission or commission.” A sin of omission is “not being or doing what God requires,” and a sin of commission is “doing what God forbids.” ‡

The American political parties care little about the source of the remedies they propose. They deserve to come from the national government and any of its myriad political ministries. Republicans and Democrats are people who come into your house and spank your kid when he spouts off or hurls a vacuum cleaner nozzle at a brother in the presence of guests. They perceive genuine problems, and go on to assume they have standing to fix them. Being pragmatists, they are people not inclined to suppose any act ultra vires.

‡ My copy of this little confession, modeled after the Westminister Shorter Catechism, is orange and yellow and well worn. It is published by Great Commission Publications and is suitable for children as young as 2. Free copies are available at my church, Brainerd Hills Presbyterian.

Sources

Nesta Webster, The French Revolution (The Christian Book Club of America, 1969, 1919), pp. 20, 21