For American Christians, Independence Day—the 4th of July—marks the intersection of our spiritual and civic lives, and the tension found there. We are sojourners in a world no longer our home, for we have been called out of this darkness and into the kingdom of Christ; yet, while we are to live in the kingdom of the Son, we still sojourn in the world.
This can be a tricky business. The church must never conflate any of the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God, must be vigilant against letting the world steer the church as the tool of some government or worldly ideology or political party. Nonetheless, when Christianity has saturated a society, the kingdom can make an impact upon the nations of the world and shape them in ways that are more in keeping with God’s truth, justice, and goodness.
There is much of that in American history, and we are right to appreciate and celebrate that legacy of faith in our nation—not total faithfulness, by any means—there are glaring blind spots and hypocrisies that we are well aware of—but nonetheless, Christianity exerted a huge influence on our cultural formation and national consciousness, and there is much in that to be thankful for—particularly on this day, as we celebrate the wonderful freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy.
Consider that pivotal document in U.S. national history, the Declaration of Independence, and the kind of worldview needed for such a document to be written. I do not say that the founding fathers were all orthodox Christians—some were, many weren’t. But those who weren’t right-believing Christians weren’t necessarily true deists either, as is sometimes alleged—and they certainly weren’t secularists like so many of our leaders today. They were men who could speak, in their Declaration of Independence, of God as the “Supreme Judge of the world” and of entrusting themselves “to the protection of divine Providence”. They were men who could write such things as this:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”
We who have had the privilege to live in America are so used to this, but what an uncommonly wonderful national foundation, in a long global history of tyrants and brutal aristocracies. What kind of worldview could form a free nation? The kind that recognized as self-evident that people are not accidents of nature but creatures of God, created equal by God, and deriving from our creator God these unalienable rights as regards our treatment of one another.
But there is an even greater declaration, one that stands when cultures and republics fall. It is a privilege to live in America, a nation that once recognized that the doctrine of creation meant people should be free and equal, and where that truth so long disputed and despised nonetheless continues by God’s grace to allow us to live in freedom. But it is even more wonderful to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God.
The doctrine of creation provides a sound basis for a free nation; the doctrine of redemption provides the only basis for free people. God sent His Son into the world, to live and die and rise for us, so that we could enter into His kingdom and enjoy eternal life, the wonderful freedom of the Spirit, and the true happiness of abiding in Christ.