July is here and with it the celebration of our Nation's Independence. But July 4th has long been a point of contention among Christians. How are we to think of the war of Independence? And furthermore, how should we now engage with our fellow Americans in this new nation?
Some have viewed our American Revolution as rebellion, claiming that since Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-7 that we should submit to the authority over us, during a time of great persecution, there are no reasonable justifications for it. Conversely, others have seen in our American Revolution the culmination of the Reformation's stand against the use of State power to prop up ungodly authority, a conviction born out of the interpretation of that same passage in Romans which declares the purpose of the authority established by God is to establish what is good. Regardless of which side of that divide one falls on, and personally I am more inclined to the 2nd position, we are who we are now.
It has been 245 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed, 238 since England determined to accept it, and 234 years since the US Constitution solidified that in the new Government of the United States of America it would be the community of individuals who were ultimately the true authority. And while it was President Abraham Lincoln who most famously used the exact phrase, "government of the people, by the people, for the people" in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, to summarize this idea; there are some who assert that the phrase in a similar form actually predates even the ideas laid out in the founding documents, to the writings of the Morning star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe. The Columbia Book of Quotations (1957) asserts that Wycliffe wrote in the general prologue to his translation of the Bible (1384) "the Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, for the People". And while this attribution has been controversial, we do know that Lincoln took it from a sermon by the Abolitionist and Pastor, Theodore Parker, preached in Boston on July 4, 1858.
Thus it falls to us today to recognize that we as individuals are together the ground for the US Government and that as such when our elected representatives fail to administrate their duties in a way that serves us all, it is in fact they who have rebelled against the authority which God has established in this nation. Contrary to the increasingly popular lies propagated on us by our media and our political elites, we were not born to serve the interests of the State, the State was "born" to serve us. The importance of this difference cannot be overstated. Christians who see themselves as servants of Society will give up their freedoms and stifle their faith at the first mention of the separation of Church and State. But Christians who understand that the individual comes first will also recognize that it is Faith that leads to freedom and that these two things are ultimately what Society actually needs. The separation of Church and State as articulated in the 1st Amendment was about keeping the State from stifling the free exchange of ideas, specifically in matters of Faith, not about keeping People of Faith from influencing the State with those ideas.
What we need now, is to recognize that every single person's basic assumptions about what is Real and True and Good impact their political views, and as such we can either live in a society guided by the ideas of those who are self-deluded and self-destructive, or we can live in a society guided by the ideas of those who are committed to Justice and Mercy and Walking humbly with the LORD God (Micah 6:8). Not by reducing Patriotism to flag-worship, or worse, reducing Christianity to ideological nationalism. And not by falling prey to the bipolar spirit of modern politics that tells us one political party is better than the other political party. No, what we need is for every Christian to consider their place in the local community as a place of providential mission, to put their hand to the plow, and to work for the good of their community (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
For most of us, this means having uncomfortable conversations with our neighbors about faith and politics, focused on policy rather than politicians' personalities. For some, this means finding ways to serve the less fortunate in our communities, so that they are no longer reliant on government bureaucracy. For some, it means transforming how we do what we do, or even completely changing our occupation, as we shift our focus from what benefits us to what benefits the community. There are so many needs, from the economy to healthcare from education to law, but God is raising up among us the people who can fill those gaps. We must be faithful to pray for and support the Entrepreneurs, the Doctors, the Teachers, the Lawyers, the Civil Servants whom He is calling to step out in faith and do the work. For we may not be of this World, be we are most certainly to honor God while we are in it (Matthew 5:13-16).