Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Few Reflections on the 4th

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States...” (Declaration of Independence of the U.S.A.).

Jesus Christ is the “Supreme Judge of the world” (Matthew 16:27; 25:31-46; John 5:19-30; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Romans 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5).

The Founders created a nation and, in its declaration of independence, recognized that it would one day stand with all other nations to be judged by the only Judge of the world.

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Who has been moved to tears and strong feelings of loyalty over the Church? Where is there anything like a “Pledge of Allegiance” to the Church?

It’s not that I’m against patriotism or responsible citizenship; I am. What concerns me is that the songs, pledges of loyalty, and fierce self-identification of Christians is focused far more on national patriotism than the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus – God the Son – shed His blood to purchase His Church (Acts 20:28). This is not said of a nation. Jesus – bridegroom of the Church – loves her, gave His life for her, and is lovingly dedicated to cleansing her by “the washing of water with the Word” (Ephesians 5:25,26). With His blood Jesus purchased His Church “from [εκ, “out of”] every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

So how is it that we are not moved to a Christ-like love and allegiance to His bride, but on days like today we will passionately express our national patriotism? How can we grieve over the waywardness of this nation from the most basic moral standards of God’s Law (somehow separating an ideal vision of the nation from its current reality), but readily trash the whole Church for the sin present within it? Most of us can sing the numerous patriotic tunes in our churches’ hymnals (!) almost entirely from memory, but sing the few good songs about the Church with nothing near the same passion or enthusiasm.

May our “patriotism” become more Christ-like, putting the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ as primary over a dedication to country. The country, after all, is not eternal. The Church is. "It is He Who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings...the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes...the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 2:21; 4:17,32), but concerning His Kingdom (the Church) He has said, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever... His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation...His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation...He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever...behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed...the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom...the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Daniel 2:44; 4:3,34; 6:26; 7:13,14,22,27).

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“All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth...God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, XV, XVII).

Did you see it in there? “Church and state should be separate.” The one phrase in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 that virtually no Southern Baptist affirms in their ideas of patriotism. Being citizens of heaven and earth requires some careful thought, both scripturally and confessionally.

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Is your eschatology linked to your patriotism? Can you conceive of the end of the U.S.A. (a popular topic for conjecturing among conspiracy theorists and "end time experts") apart from the "end of the world"? Does your eschatology allow for a possible passage of the U.S.A. into history (as many much older countries have since Jesus left the earth) and a continuation of world history? Is your reading of "end times" passages and your patriotism linked - that is, is your understanding of Scripture that it was written uniquely for your generation?

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One more thing: “Then the LORD appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land’” (2 Chronicles 7:12-14). Context, friends. Who are “His people”? What was “their land”? God’s old covenant people lived in a land that was an expression of that covenant. The new covenant people of God in Christ have no such expression of the covenant. The land in which God’s new covenant people (the Church) live throughout the world is not connected to their covenant with Him in Christ. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

A better, more contextually faithful, statement on prayer is found in Jeremiah 29. “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

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