It is a fairly well-known fact that the Reformed Presbyterians in this country once had a strict principle of political dissent. In keeping with their principles, they would neither hold political office nor vote for candidates for political office. What is often ignored when these things are considered, however, is their rationale for their position.
The Covenanters were not against participating in civil government. What they were against was participating in civil government which required sinful vows on the part of its officers. In the case of the United States government, the vow in question was the oath of office. The President’s oath of office, for example, reads thus: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
What is so wrong with the President’s oath? It is the commitment to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” As most students of Reformed history will know, the Covenanters were establishmentarians. They believed, as the Westminster Confession states, that the civil magistrate “has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed” (XXIII. iii.).
Contrast this statement from the Confession with the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The two are clearly at odds. How then, can a Christian who is convinced that the Bible teaches the establishment of religion in good conscience take a vow to “preserve, protect, and defend” the above amendment to the Constitution?
“Okay,” someone may say, “so I can’t take the vow. But does that really mean that I can’t vote for someone else, who has no qualm with the Constitution?” American Covenanter Samuel Wylie answers:
A representative must swear to support the constitution before he can take a seat in the legislative assembly. This oath we have already shown to be immoral, and such as we cannot, in good conscience, swear ourselves; what, therefore, we cannot do ourselves, on account of its immorality, we ought not to employ others to do for us. (The Two Sons Oil)
Ultimately, each Christian must take the path that his conscience, under the Word of God, dictates. In my opinion, however, the statements and stances of our forefathers should not be overlooked.