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Archive for July, 2013

Thinking about Independence Day

With Independence Day coming on the heels of two Supreme Court decisions paving the way for the national recognition of same-sex marriage, I feel more like weeping than celebrating. For at least a half-century there has been a concerted effort to relegate Judeo-Christian principles to the extremities of society. 

In one sense, the United States has never been a truly Christian nation, not in the biblical sense of the word. In another sense, the nation was founded as a Christian nation because of the pervasive influence of Christianity upon it. To be sure, there were deists, Thomas Jefferson being perhaps most noticeable (Benjamin Franklin claimed to be a deist but was at best very inconsistent), Unitarians, and the occasional atheist, such as Thomas Paine. By and large, though, leaders exercised a Christian worldview.

For instance, our founding president George Washington wrote in 1778: “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”

John Adams, the second president of the new nation, envisioned a place where the Christian Scriptures were faithfully observed: “Suppos a nation in some distant Region, should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. Every member would be obliged in Concience to temperance and frugality and industry, to justice and kindness and Charity towards his fellow men, and to Piety and Love, and reverence towards almighty God. In this Commonwealth, no man would impair his health by Gluttony, drunkenness, or Lust–no man would sacrifice his most precious time to cards, or any other trifling and mean amusement–no man would steal or lie or any way defraud his neighbour, but would live in peace and good will with all men-no man would blaspheme his maker or prophane his Worship, but a rational and manly, a sincere and unaffected Piety and devotion, would reign in all hearts. What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.” Imagine a politician saying that today.

There was a clergyman who signed the Declaration of Independence and prayers to God in the name of Christ were offered on all occasions. Other religions were tolerated, but voices daring to denigrate or even protest against the Christian faith were relatively rare. Morality was biblically based. The colonial period and the early decades of our nation were not pristine, but Christianity permeated its fabric.

But times have changed, and the America of today is but a shadow of its former self. Instead of leaders willing to lay down their lives in the name of liberty, our leaders seem typically more concerned with padding their wealth and pandering to remain in power. With the most godless president leading the most godless political party in American history, murder of the unborn is considered a woman’s right and sexual perversion a cause for rejoicing, even meriting a presidential congratulatory phone call. Far too many gladly relinquish personal responsibility required by liberty in order to gain cradle to grave sustenance from federal and state governments. Politicians who dare espouse biblical convictions are widely lampooned, and ministers representing biblical Christianity find no welcome mat among the political and academic elites.

I keep trying to find a silver lining, but it’s difficult. One positive is that people should be less inclined to confuse patriotism with Christianity. Many Americans have had the notion that they were good Christians because they were good citizens. Even with the best of civil governments, Christians must remember that, ultimately, we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). This world in its present state is not our eternal home (compare 1 John 2:15-17). We belong to another kingdom (John 18:36).

And yet we do reside in this nation. We remain citizens also of an earthly kingdom as long as we draw breath. Unless commanded to do what Scripture forbids, we are to obey its laws (Acts 4:18-20; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). We should pray that God would turn hearts unto himself. We should work to convince our fellow citizens of the blessings that occur when laws are righteous (Proverbs 14:34). Above all, we should diligently and intentionally teach our children about God and his righteousness (Deuteronomy 6:1-7), realizing that educational and entertainment and political elites intentionally seek to turn our children from God and his righteousness. And, above all, we must not be discouraged. God remains sovereign (Revelation 19).

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Spring commencement exercises have come and gone. Speakers throughout the country encouraged the new grads to be extraordinary, to rise to the top, to follow their passions, to make a difference in the world.

The church often repeats that message, exhorting its youth not be settle for the ordinary, to rise above the common folk in the pews, to do extraordinary feats for Christ, to be radical. That sounds good, but is it biblical?

I have talked with college students who have been counseled by their para-church college ministry leader to put aside marriage for a few years and devote their time to some sort of college ministry. These students love the Lord and want to serve him. They do not want simply to join a church and settle into a comfortable life of ease. I love their enthusiasm and fervor.

Such a view, however, problematic. It equates following Christ, really following Christ with doing the spectacular. My counsel to young Christians is that God is glorified through the natural course of living. With the exception of a believer who God has called to a life of singleness and celibacy, we are to marry and have children and establish godly homes. The husband is to provide for his family, so getting a job which will do that is a good thing. I don’t find any scriptural injunction to delay that for a temporary ministry or mission. The closest one may get is Paul’s suggestion about the present distress in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 7, but that was a circumstance peculiar to whatever was going on in Corinth.

On more than one occasion I have talked with young men involved in a courting relationship who were counseled by their college ministers to delay marriage in order to undertake a particular college ministry for a few years. It sounds noble, and it sounds like the type of sacrifice to which the Bible calls believers. The trouble, though, is that “it sounds,” but it isn’t. In reality, it seems to contradict the Scriptures and would lead such young men into unnecessary temptation (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-2).

Well-intentioned Christians have a knack for making complicated what the Bible makes relatively clear. God has not called us to pursue the heroic. He has called us to the ordinary. The purpose of the ordinary, however, is not a matter of pursuing creature comfort. It is a matter of pursuing God and glorifying him through the means that God has established. God has instituted marriage (Genesis 2:21-25; Matthew 19:4-6). God commands us to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Couples unable to have children often adopt. The Scriptures enjoin us to provide for our families (1 Timothy 5:8). We are to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). We find discipleship and nurture in the local church (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I cannot help but wonder whether this call to do the extraordinary and radical is little more than an appeal to our individual egos. We don’t want to be “ordinary.” We want others to know how valuable we are to the cause of Christ. And that’s a problem. The focus becomes “us.”

There are individuals that God sovereignly places in situations in which they do what are perceived to be notable achievements. Most believers, however, are called to the “ordinary,” to marriage and family, to employment, to learning and ministering through their local church, and to being a godly influence upon their neighbors and their fellow employees. May we not see such a life as a “lesser” form of Christian living. The Bible doesn’t.

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