Fourth of July Reflections on a Changing America
For Christians, the issue of patriotism is always complicated by our citizenship in two realms, one earthly and one heavenly. The Bible teaches that we have duties to our earthly nation, including obeying laws, paying taxes, and honoring our leaders (Rom. 13:1-7). At the same time, we are subjects of the eternal kingdom of Christ. Jesus said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mt. 22:21). This dual citizenship presents serious complications when the civil and the divine authorities strongly conflict. This was the situation the early believers faced in Jerusalem, resulting in their persecution. Peter told the Jewish leaders, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), and for his disobedience he was beaten and later threatened with execution (Acts 5:40; 12:1-6).
The blueprint for the pagan conquest of America was discovered in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which forced abortion on an unwilling society. Prior to the Supreme Court imposing its will on the people, a clear majority of Americans opposed abortion on demand. Over the years, the sheer force of public policy and unrelenting media misinformation has shifted public opinion so that the nation is now roughly split on the issue. The same strategy is now succeeding with homosexuality and the redefinition of marriage. The secularist control of the higher courts has imposed an alien morality on the people and the radical media has used propaganda to confuse minds and control opinions. Last week's Supreme Court decision to overthrow the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a classic example of this strategy. The majority explanation did not even attempt to establish a constitutional basis for the judicial overthrow of this law. Instead, in flagrant violation of the balance of powers that has kept America free for over two hundred years, the Supreme Court justices simply imposed their personal opinion on the nation, overthrowing the will of the people as expressed through the national legislature.
Let me suggest some conclusions that Christians should draw from recent experience:
1) We face explicitly anti-Christian forces who are determined to paganize America and are completely unrestrained by concerns of integrity, fairness, or democratic process. As Justice Scalia wrote of last week's DOMA decision, the only thing that will restrain the liberal assault on America "is its sense of what it can get away with."
2) There is mounting evidence that the current administration will use its vast coercive power to unjustly persecute its opponents. From the National Security Agency's sweeping violations of privacy, to the Internal Revenue Service's harassment of conservatives and Christians (to cite only the most notorious examples), the vast power of federal agencies is being employed not for the general good of the nation but for the secularist overthrow of American institutions.
3) Contrary to the rhetoric they have long employed, the forces of pagan America do not merely seek tolerance for their own values and practices but the exclusion and removal of Christian dissent, opinion, and participation in civil society. It is difficult to see how this agenda can fail to result in the official persecution of Christians and the denial of civil rights to those who wish to proclaim the Bible's message of salvation and godliness.
4) Given the aggressiveness of the liberal powers, it seems likely that the years immediately before us - 2014, 2015, and 2016 - will be historically significant in terms of their assault not only on Christians and their values but also on the very freedoms that have marked our nation since 1776.
If these reflections are even generally accurate, it will be important for Christians to respond carefully and biblically both as citizens of America and as citizens of Christ's kingdom. Let me first offer counsel on how Christians must respond as Americans:
1) We must continue to love our country. Nothing would more please or serve the radical secularists than for Christians to jettison their patriotic impulses.
2) We must speak out boldly and pointedly as Christians even if we are publicly derided as hatemongers or dangerous religious extremists. We must refuse to surrender our rights under the Constitution and we must be prepared to pay the price of persecution to uphold them.
3) We must joyfully love our neighbors and serve our communities, including those who vigorously oppose us in the culture war. It will serve little for Christians to argue a biblical morality if we are not willing to demonstrate biblical grace and truth in action. By all means, there must be no violence, personal abuse, or vindictive spirit in the Christian defense of our national heritage. Our calling as Christian Americans is to "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21), even if our virtues are slanderously labeled as hate.
4) We must support godly elected leaders and some of us will be called to serve in the political process. This will be especially important at the state level in the upcoming years, since God charges lower civil leaders to protect the people against the tyranny of higher civil leaders. We will need to pray for and support our godly leaders at the state and local level, fortifying them with the courage and wisdom they are going to need.
Even more importantly, we must be faithful to Christ in the midst of these troubles. The Bible has amply warned us to expect such upheavals (1 Pet. 4:12). So let us be neither dismayed nor distracted from our primarily calling as disciples of Jesus. This means:
1) We must steadfastly refuse to violate God's Word, either in obeying ungodly government requirements or in opposing them. This is our absolute duty to the Lord and the source of our moral authority among men.
2) Our churches must stop dancing to the world's tune. We must no longer measure church success in secular terms - attendance, buildings, and cash - but in the biblical terms of truth, godliness, and evangelistic zeal. Our pulpits must resound with the biblical message of law and gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. While many churches (especially many prominent mega-churches) may capitulate to the pagan agenda, ours must stand with the Lord through faithfulness to his Word.
3) We must commit ourselves to prayer. Francis Schaeffer lamented a generation ago that American Christians care mainly for "personal peace and enough affluence to enjoy it." The truth of that statement is the cause of many of our woes. We must now rally as Christians around the source of our true power, the throne of grace in heaven (Heb. 4:16). If the prayer meetings of Christian churches do not fill in the coming months and years, then James 4:2 will explain the loss of our country: "You do not have because you do not ask."
4) We must rise up with renewed zeal in taking the gospel message of Jesus Christ to our neighbors. If troubled, we must proclaim Christ. If persecuted we must proclaim Christ. If jailed, we must follow Paul's example by proclaiming Christ. Our pagan neighbor is not primarily our culture-war enemy but a sinner in bondage who needs the loving message of salvation through the grace of Christ.
Christ is reigning over this year's Fourth of July. The startling troubles before us are as much an opportunity as they are a threat, but only if Christians rise up to our calling as servants of a triumphant gospel in the midst of a sin-broken world.
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Two Books on Scripture
John Henry Newman: A Biography
The Hole in our Holiness