In two days many of us will be gathered at a beach, park, BBQ, fireworks show, or some other celebration of the 4th of July. This holiday is one of the high holidays in our country and rightly so, for on this day we celebrate the birth of our nation. As a pastor, the 4th of July and other national holidays can create a bit of tension in the planning of worship. There are many congregants that expect patriotic hymns to be played on the Sundays before/after the 4th of July, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, etc… There are some pastors who have no problem with inserting patriotic hymns into the order of worship, I am not one of those pastors. I believe on Sunday morning we are gathered to worship the Triune God, not the United States of America. I do not believe we can worship God and country at the same time. I see those as two distinct entities. Our nation has its own civil religion that is not equal to Christianity, despite what some people might want to believe. Even though I hold this belief, I still think we can celebrate the 4th of July and celebrate our country, just not during Sunday service.
There will be many in the Christian blogosphere who will take this opportunity to show us how being a Christian and being an American do not mix. While they have good points, there are some who take it to the point where it seems that a person cannot be a Christian and an American at the same time. Still, there are many others on the opposite side who will say that to be an American is to be a Christian, that those two ideologies walk hand-in-hand with one another. I do not find myself in either camp at this point in my life. I do appreciate this country and enjoy the opportunities it provides me with. There was a time when I wanted to devote my life to the study of the USA. Throughout my Jr. High and High School years, I thought I might end up as a U.S. History teacher or college professor. I’ve always enjoyed the stories of the founding of our nation, it was a riveting time in the history of the world. Yet, I am very aware of how my Christian faith calls me to question the beliefs of the civil religion of this country. With that said, I wonder what ideas within the American civil religion may line up with my Christian worldview. One that comes to mind instantly is freedom.
One of the biggest foundation blocks of our country, maybe the cornerstone, is freedom. The founding fathers wanted to establish a place that provided freedom from the tyranny of the King of England or any king for that matter. Within that frame of reference, certain freedoms were written into the constitution of our country. Freedom of speech and religion are two that afford me the right to post this blog right now. Within the framework of our country lies the idea that people should be free. Free from tyranny and oppression. Free to follow their dreams and aspirations. Free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Now, I know that during the time of our nations birth, freedom was not something everyone enjoyed. Basically anyone who wasn’t a white male had trouble accessing freedom. No doubt that our country found itself wanting in a lot of ways as it pertains to freedom, and still does. Yet, this idea of freedom for all has been, and continues to be, the basis for many social justice movements over the years. We still see freedom as a beneficial aspect of society and that’s why many of us work diligently to see that everyone enjoys it.
The Heidelberg Catechism’s most well known first question asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer begins this way, “That I am not my own, but belong–body and soul, in life and in death–to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.” While reading the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus said these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” I believe the concept of freedom to be one of foundational aspects of my Reformed Christian faith. As a Christian, I believe that I have been set free from the tyranny of devil, Christ has released me from the oppression of sin, and I am now free to live a life in devotion to God. One of my tasks now is to make sure others enjoy this same freedom that I have found in Christ.
While I see an idea of freedom being common between Christianity and the American civil religion, the ends of that freedom is where the commonality might end. I sense the American idea of freedom has led many of us to pursue our own desires at the expense of others. Freedom in America has come to mean that I can do what I want, when I want. Or get what I want, when I want it. Christian freedom allows us to put aside our selfish desire for the benefit of the community. I believe community is something we have lost in our country, we worry too much about my freedom instead of our freedom. As we enjoy hot dogs, hamburgers, beer(maybe the enjoyment of beer is more of a commonality between my civil religious beliefs and my Christian beliefs), and fireworks may we ponder our freedom. Not just freedom from the tyranny of King George but the tyranny of the devil, and may we ask ourselves what God is calling us to do with that freedom.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!- Martin Luther King, Jr.