Tristram Strieb-Griebling responds to Rick

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In response to Rick's 'Why the Fourth of July is a Presbyterian holiday' my good friend Sir Tristram Strieb-Griebling sent me the following. We don't often publish correspondence and comments we receive but having shown it to Rick we both felt it was showing the respect Ref 21 deserves. We are grateful to Mr Strieb- Griebling for his time in writing and allowing us to publish it.

 I include his initial note to me as well as letter to Dr. Phillips...........

In the normal course of events, an Englishman's attitude to bombastic tub-thumping by the inhabitants of more youthful nations on the occasion of their national days is to simply adopt an indulgent condescension to the jejune revelries of our friends.

However, given that it now seems that at least one contributor to Ref21 seems determined every year (2013 & 2014)and to insist that ALL of us share in this unalloyed joy in celebrating a colonial revolt against taxes imposed for those colonists' own defence 200 years ago, and that it appears impossible for that to be done without either a direct or indirect slur on the theological basis of one's own country's constitutional arrangements,  'something,', as we say at the Frog and Peach, 'ought to be done.'

The usual Englishman's way to 'do something' loosely follows my esteemed ancestor's, Sir Arthur Strieb-Griebling, inspired solution to ending that 'ghastly business' of the Second World War.  That universally efficacious solution being, of course, to write a letter.

Dear Dr. Phillips,

Much as we all admire the United States and have great affection for many of its citizens, I rather feel your post of July 4th. showed up one of the less attractive traits of Americans which is to assume that what happens in the USA has universal significance for the rest of mankind.  You're not of course alone in this on Ref21 (yes, I'm looking at you, Leon Brown!) but some of us become a touch peeved if you seem to be implying that the outcome of that little contretemps that thankfully subsided in 1783 is somehow to be celebrated by all Presbyterians. (I should point out (if I don't, they surely will!!) that this also rather excludes Reformed Baptists such as our brother Jeremy Walker, but as he is too busy celebrating the release of the Logos 5 Puritan Felt Hat Platinum Edition, he has little time left to celebrate anything else).

For example, when you say the Declaration of Independence 'declares the sovereignty of God' do you mean that Thomas Jefferson and others thought the term 'Creator' referred to the God of the Bible?  If the main intent was to declare the sovereignty of God, would you not actually just refer to Him as 'God'?  And if this is a clever terminological compromise to accommodate Jefferson, Paine etc. doesn't that somewhat limit the concept of the sovereignty of God?  Meanwhile, poor old George III was part of a coronation ceremony that talked of God explicitly, and culminated in the anointing of the sovereign.  This ceremony was used again for Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.  It is said that her anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury (not very Presbyterian, I grant you, but they still have the 39 Articles!) in Westminster was the most important aspect to her of the whole ceremony, and it could be argued is a symbol that much better demonstrates the sovereignty of God over the civil power than changing God's name to 'Creator' in a document.  I need hardly point out that God's people in the Old Testament also considered it a sufficient assertion of God's Sovereignty over the monarch.

When you say the declaration and the constitution were drawn up by covenant representatives, I don't doubt you.  However, when you go on to argue that the US system of government is therefore like the Presbyterian form of government I can only agree with you up to a point.  You see, in one there is a King of whom the covenant representatives are representatives of, whom He appoints, albeit they are drawn from His people.  In the other, there is no King, or perhaps a different King, the People from whom not only are the covenant representatives drawn but whom they also supposed to serve.  Noticing the difference, I leave it to others to ponder the potential dangers such an imbalance might lead to but, if you live in the US, I suggest a good place to start might be today's newspaper.

And while we're on the subject of covenant representatives (and, for that matter, balance), 'the need for strong local and state governments, along with strong families and churches, to protect the people for the tyranny of the national executive.', is all well and good and most necessary.  However, as Carl Truman has repeatedly pointed out, the issue of the day is not the ability to restrain the executive but the Supreme Court, which for Christians or anyone else, given the weaknesses of the US Constitution, will prove to be very hard to do.

Finally, speaking as one who counts himself spiritually and temperamentally in the line of the English Puritans, I would not be so quick to glory in Presbyterian rebellion.  Just on a point of accuracy, it was Charles I who 'launched' the Civil War by raising his standard at Nottingham, not the Puritans in Parliament.  (I know, I know they cut of his head in the end, but none of them really wanted to!).  But it could be said that both the Covenanters and the Rebels of 1775 (as well as those involved in more recent troubles in Ulster) were far too quick to arms and far too slow to lay them down.  This trait, and there is some link to the forms of Christian religion dominant in those countries, was seen again in the US 70 years or so later, still the only country to fight a murderous and divisive Civil War over the issue of the abolition of slavery.  So when someone on July 4th. accuses the English of having 'a particular allergy to a thoroughgoing Reformed Church' (Sorry to bring up Liam's post, but the injustice of it still rankles even after 12 months.) the 'particular allergy' we actually have is to a heap of corpses, and the bitterness and sectarianism that endures as a result.

Thankfully between our two countries that bitterness did not last forever.  But I think it is worth reflecting not just on the record of Presbyterians and their religious allies in fighting political wars since 1660, but also on the propensity of Reformed churches to split as denominations and also to be so swift to attack others Christians.  Look, I'm not a 'peace at any price' man by any means, and where fights need to fought we should be there; we're right and they're wrong, I'm quite clear about that.  But war, conflict, rebellion and picking fights tend to bring the Law of Unintended Consequences into play, and those consequences endure.  But as we reflect, we should also keep in mind, whether we choose to fight or not, that God, not a 'Creator', is sovereign, and there are no unintended consequences in His Providence.  And that is something all Presbyterians can truly celebrate.

"These are times that try men's souls". Happy July 4th.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Tristram Strieb-Griebling

P.S. I didn't mention the rest of the world's confusion of the phrase 'the pursuit of happiness'.  To use one of Aimee Byrd's favourite phrases; "What does that actually mean?"  I know what it sounds like, and it isn't 'Presbyterian'!

Posted July 8, 2014 @ 6:00 AM by Paul Levy

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