This week people all across the United States will gather to celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our nation. How should Christians observe this secular holiday? This dilemma is only heightened as the flaws in our society have become more evident in recent decades. As Christians, we recognize that our ultimate citizenship is found in the kingdom of Christ, but that does not mean it is wrong for Christians around the world to be patriotic.
I fear many Christians haven’t spent enough time thinking about what it means to be a godly citizen of the kingdoms of this world while at the same time maintaining our primary allegiance to Christ. On the one hand, we have those who appear ashamed to be American at all. It is as if it is below them to recognize the many mercies and blessings Americans have. On the other hand, we have those who worship America almost in place of God. This type of idolatry is to be condemned as well. Christians should reject both of these extremes.
So how we celebrate the Fourth of July? With an eye toward the blessings God has given us in this country and where we as a people have been faithful. Such a celebration also entails recognizing where we need to repent as a people and seek to obey the laws of God. America is not now nor has it ever been perfect. We are a group of sinners, just like every other nation. Our Founders recognized our tendency toward sin and wisely put in checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power. One thing Christians should be thankful for this Fourth of July is the messiness of a constitutional republic. People often complain that our politicians don’t do much, and that’s part of the point. It is supposed to be difficult to legislate in our form of government. This is one of the protections our Founders established in our republic.
I firmly believe it is right for Christians to celebrate America, specifically her founding ideals. To be clear, we have never perfectly lived up to our principles. We live in a fallen world, and there will never be a human established utopia, but our ideals are there to guide us and to be the foundation society is built upon. The principles America was founded upon are righteous and worth preserving even if we never fully lived up to them. The problem isn’t the ideals, it’s us. Hence the wisdom of a limited government.
What are these ideals Christians should celebrate? I’ll give you two found in the Declaration of Independence. These powerful words establish a fundamental Christian truth, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Note that the Founders acknowledged mankind was created, not evolved from some cosmic goo. If Darwin is right, then the Founders are wrong. If Darwin is right, then there is no equality, except we are all equally meaningless. Darwinism is stained by the blood of its mantra—the survival of the fittest. There is no equality, only power to survive. Without this belief, Darwinism doesn’t work. But the Declaration of Independence got it right; God created mankind, and therein, our equality is established outside of ourselves—we are all made in God’s image.
It is at this point the objection will be raised, “But what about slavery? Clearly our country didn’t actually believe in such equality.” It’s a fair point, as I stated we have never fully lived up to our ideals, and slavery is one of the more wretched examples of our failure, just as abortion is today. Yet it would be historically naïve to suggest that slavery was a uniquely American problem or institution. Having said that, America did still fail to live up to this ideal, but through our history we have sought to right that failure. The principle wasn’t the problem; it was our failure to live it out.
The second ideal is found in the very next phrase of the Declaration that mankind is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Because God exists and he created mankind, our rights are rooted in Him. Today politicians seek to expand every service under the sun to be a basic human right because we view rights as something given to us by the government. But whatever the government gives us, it can take from us. The Founders were correct that our rights are God-given. This is a warning to all governments and politicians who seek to violate them. Recognizing this means the government is neither our God nor our savior. Throughout history, government has played the role of the oppressor and one who takes away the rights God has given. We cannot worship both God and the State. This ideal rightly acknowledges that the government’s power is limited because God exists and he has given us rights which no man may take from us with just cause.
These are the ideals all Christians in our country should embrace and celebrate this week. We should thank God for these graces in our country. These virtues all point outside of us to our Creator God. These are things we should pass along to our children before they are altogether forgotten.
The problem we find ourselves in today is that many people think the problems aren’t our failure to live up to these ideal, but the ideals themselves. We are witnessing cultural rot in America at a breathtaking rate as we vilify these righteous principles. As Christians, we should point our country back to these principles, but we cannot stop there. We must point our society primarily to the source of these ideals—the God of Scripture.
This week, I will celebrate the evidences of God’s grace in our country. God is at work, as the legacy of America’s ideals has slowed our decay. Our hope is not in our country, but in our God who brings life through repentance and faith. I’ll celebrate the God-given truths enshrined in our founding documents, and I will call all who will listen to repentance. Where there is evil and wickedness, it is the duty of all Christians in every generation to urge our neighbors to turn from evil and find healing and life in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should celebrate that we can do just that with relative ease in our country.
Levi J. Secord