Monday, July 4, 2016
All over the country as well as the internet, modern American Christians and their leaders are telling the story of American independence today. One such leader, Hank Hanegraaff, quotes Thomas Jefferson, the deistic heretic, who believed and argued that America was a precious and joyous blessing to all of us. Was it? Is it? American independence has, for 240 years, been a celebrated achievement in all churches in this country. This is especially true for evangelical churches. We have continually demonstrated American pride at every given opportunity, pledging allegiance to the American flag and the principles upon which this country was founded. I cannot help but pause and ask, how many Christians actually stop to ask the question: is the American experiment founded on godly principles? Is there any room within the Christian worldview, the Christian ethic for the idea of revolution? Moreover, is there room within the Christian faith for the idea of a brutal, bloody revolution? Can Christians take up arms against the King, the governing authority? Could they do this today? Yesterday? Tomorrow? Ever? It is a question that Christian leaders, pastors, and teachers ought to be helping the rest of us ask and answer. And for that answer, we must turn to Scripture.
To answer this question briefly, I will point you to two very straightforward texts in the Bible. It is these texts that speak so clearly to this question that I see no need to examine any others. The first text is located in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Peter commands Christians to submit themselves to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. Included in those institutions is the king. Now, Peter wrote somewhere during the early to mid 60s, probably not later than 65. Nero was the Roman emperor during this time. Nero was anything but a fair, just, or noble leader. Yet, despite this, Peter commands the Christian community to honor the governing authorities which would include the emperor Nero. And living in Rome at the time, Peter would have been quite familiar with Nero’s ungodly leadership. Peter’s interest was the Christian church’s testimony of faith in Christ to the surrounding ungodly, pagan culture.
Peter was not alone in his perspective on Christian submission to ungodly authorities. Paul wrote to the Roman church, the same church from which Peter wrote his instructions, commanding that community that every person must be in submission to the governing authorities. Paul said that those who resist the governing authority find themselves resisting God. He informs us that we are to render to the governing authorities what is due. Obedience is one of those things. For the sake of our conscience, Christians are to be in subjection to governing authorities. This is not an option. Christian leaders of all stripes have much work to do in helping Christians in America draw the sharp line of separation between what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be an American. Christians have for far too long uncritically accept American principles and ideas as if they are derived from Scripture. For the most part, they are not. An adjustment is long overdue. The excuses for not teaching Christians how to be better critical thinkers, better discerners reached its end long ago. We cannot make a difference in our culture unless we are different ourselves, top to bottom. For too long now Christians have tried to change their culture by being more and more like the culture. It’s a silly perspective when you think about it that way. You can’t make a difference if you’re not different yourself. Today, where Independence Day is concerned, let’s be different: different in how we think about our heavenly citizenship; different in how we see ourselves in our culture; different in how we fellowship and do church and worship. We are wholly dependent upon God. We are dependent upon each other. We are never independent in any sense of the meaning of that word.
Finally, I want to draw your attention to the first independence day. Long ago, in a garden far from here, there was a man named Adam and a woman whose name was Eve. In that garden there was a serpent; a serpent promising a new way to life, a new way to think, a new way to know, a new way to live. No longer would or should man have to rely solely on God for his understanding of the world and how he should live in it. Man, said the serpent, can and should operate independent from God. He has that right! He will not die. He can be whatever he wants to be, accomplish whatever he wants to accomplish. He can live according to his own morality. He can achieve knowledge and expertise of his world, of creation apart from God, without reliance or even reference to God. The fruit of this philosophy is expressed in American culture and her churches week in and week out. The most common expression of this philosophy is in its view of Scripture. Man determines which parts of Scripture are useful and which parts should be dismissed. Man, not Scripture, is the final arbiter of truth. You can murder babies and call it a woman’s rights issue or a woman’s health issue. If you were born a male, you can be whatever gender you want with surgery or just the use of simple language. Man has convinced himself that he is autonomous, independent in every way, the master of his own ship.
We do not submit to an ungodly government for pragmatic or practical reasons. We do so for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the gospel, to honor God and to honor God we must honor the king, the emperor, and even the president. Obedience to God’s law, fulfillment of our Christian duties is precisely how Christians honor their Lord. The reason we fulfill our duty is because we love our Lord. And if we love our Lord, and care about reflecting his image into this world, into our specific culture, we must obey that very Scripture that is the revelation of the very nature we are supposed to be imaging to the world.
The entire Christian idea is the return to our acknowledgement that in all things, we are totally dependent on God. We depend on God for knowledge and understanding. We depend on God for redemption, for true joy, for love, for hope, for morality, yes, for all things. Regeneration reminds us first and foremost that we are creatures in need of our Creator. When we read Scripture we are reminded that we rely on God for everything. Someone once asked me that if God controls all things and has planned all things, then what is the primary purpose for prayer? While prayer is relational in nature, it is not relational in the sense that it conjures up emotions. It is relational in nature in that it acknowledges to God that we are his creatures, his children by his gracious act of adoption and that we rely on him for everything. The idea of independence is, at its very core, contrary to Christian dogma, antithetical to the very heartbeat of the Christian worldview.
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