Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Fourth of July is God's day

Recent surveys of students and regular citizens in the U.S. have shown that most do not like history, and know very little about it, whether it's the history of some far away time and place, or even that of their own country. Knowledge and understanding of history in America is nothing short of abysmal. Except, it would seem, when it comes to the 4th of July. That's a date nearly everyone remembers – even if they're not always sure what it means or why it's important! Thus, perhaps this is a good opportunity to talk about the importance of history, especially to believers.

"To know nothing of the past is to understand little of the present and to have no conception of the future." (Thucydides c.400 B.C.)

Indeed, when we have at our fingers' tips the vast array of past human experience before us, such knowledge gives insight and even foresight into our plans for the future. Thus, of all the disciplines of the mind of man, none is more important, useful, practical, dare I say, even exciting, as history. Besides which, history is, after all – His Story – that is, the story of God and His creation. Only when we know where we have been as a race can we face the present difficulties and future concerns with serenity, armed with possible solutions, rather than mere endless groping questions.

When seen in all its vast scope, history is but a continual succession of scenes as in a play, and each and every human being has a very precise and particular role to play, whether they realize it or not. History is not, indeed cannot be, merely a motley collection of unrelated events. But it is, indeed, it must be, the portal through which we see the entire orchestrated drama of life. Every movement is a part of the main theme, and every incident performs its part as the play unfolds, with God as the Director. With such a view, the Christian historian grasps insight that widens his inner vision, knowledge that motivates greater intelligence, and focus that brings true understanding to his own present world.

Of course, it goes without saying that no true historian can claim to be totally objective, all bring their own prejudiced perspective. I myself am an amateur historian, that is, I study history because I love to study history. There are, it seems to me, only two ways of looking at history. History is either a series of events with a purpose and design, hence, discernable patterns, and an ultimate objective; or history is simply the random actions of various people and nations, with all outcomes determined by chance, or "luck," thus beginning and ending ultimately in chaos. But the later concept takes far too much faith to believe in! Therefore, as a Christian who accepts the Bible as the ultimate "history book," I see history as having a clearly discernable design.

Looking back at the past six thousand years of recorded history, it is clear to me that the focal point of all history so far is the birth of the man called "The Christ," and the subsequent promulgation of His beautiful Gospel message, especially through the mediums created and put to use by the Anglo-American empires of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century's. This gives added meaning and texture to our observance of the 4th of July here in the United States. By-the-way, it does not bother me to use the terms "Before the Common Era," or "Common Era." Indeed, whether you say "Anno Domini" (The Year of Our Lord), and "Before Christ," or not, the point of demarcation is still the self same individual.

Now, to be sure, there are certainly other calendars in use around the world. The Jews count from Creation. The Moslems mark the "Hegira" of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, and the Chinese begin their calendar with the first dynasty. Yet, even in non-Christian nations, the western calendar is still the basis for most communication and commerce. Thus, all history is still marked nearly everywhere by this singular event – the coming into the world of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

In addition, I believe I can say without fear of contradiction, that the United States of America is the greatest nation yet to exist on the earth. This is not a boast or a brag as the old song goes, but a simple fact of history; one that God has allowed. On the whole, mankind has benefited more from this nation's existence, experience, and example than from any other nation – so far. Obviously, should the whole world, say, begin speaking Cantonese, or marking the rise and fall of the Stock Market in Yen, or should that Yen be imprinted with "In Allah We Trust," I would, of course, have to change this perspective and opinion. But God would still be in charge.

But with the foregoing as my focus, I also believe that it was Christianity, the customs and traditions of Greco-Roman, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon Europe, and especially English common law that were the most important factors in America's eventual development and thereupon use by our Lord to spread His Gospel. Here too we see God's very discernable hand countless times in this part of history.

This is not to be-little eastern Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, sub-Sahara Africa, or the Americas before 1400. While there were truly great civilizations in these areas, and they did add important contributions to the later development of western civilization, they were, for the most part, isolated from each other and the rest of the world of their time. Thus, with the exception of the Mongol invasions, they did not have great immediate impact on the world beyond their own borders of their time.

So, how does this view affect us here in America and how does it impact our observance of our national Day of Independence?

Well, to begin with, let us understand that every ruler and every government on earth has been put into place by God Himself. (Romans 13:1). Therefore, everyone must obey any and all governments or authorities, and the laws they make (Romans 13:5). Only one exception is allowed by the Lord, and that is when rulers or governments either forbid believers to do what He clearly commands, or orders them to do something He clearly forbids (Acts 5:29).

In addition, God directs both His earthly Church and worldly governments in their own very specific and particular duties and responsibilities. Through His Word, He instructs the Church to proclaim the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to the whole world, through the Word and Sacraments (Matthew 28:19,20). Thus, the whole purpose of the Church is to guide believers to eternal life in heaven. On the other hand, the Lord commands all rulers and governments to maintain good order and keep the peace within their area of authority. Indeed, the whole purpose of government is so “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2). For this purpose God empowers all governments and rulers to act in His place in order to defend its citizens from any and all attacks either from within or without. This includes punishing criminals, even with death, and engaging in just wars. (Romans 13:3,4).

On their part, believers can and should both participate in government and encourage all rulers and governments to set up laws, rewards, and punishments, according to the light of God’s gift of reason, and the law of God written in man’s heart. (Romans 13:4). Indeed, believers’ serving their God-given ruler or government is pleasing to the Lord and beneficial for society.

Now, it could be argued – and has been endlessly since 1776! – that our War of Independence was nothing short of a rejection of and rebellion against God-ordered government. But let's not argue that point now. The fact is, we won the war, or perhaps more correctly stated, God allowed us to win this war, and thus we became a separate nation. In turn, this new nation had a much more "tolerant" view of religion and thus avoided the religious wars and persecutions that hampered Gospel proclamation in the most of the rest of the world. As is so often the case with our great and wise God, he can turn even sin and evil into good!

We must understand, however, that just because God wanted to use the United States as a powerful springboard for Christ's Gospel does not mean that He approved of everything this nation did in the past or approves of her today. In fact, I believe it is clear that God has allowed us to survive for as long as we have not because we are such a wonderful nation, but in spite of the fact that we flaunt and ignore His will at almost every turn! This should add a healthy dose of humility to our celebrations on July 4th! Perhaps, with this understanding we can limit or even reduce the gulf between God's will and our lust for more and more freedom – even from Him!

So, what of the future? What does all this history tell us about ourselves, our society, and our very existence as a civilization? How can simple information like dates, and names, and places help us to make a difference in the future? It can if we keep it connected to God and His Holy Word, and the advancement of His Gospel will in the world.

So, did previous generations – even those with a proper understanding of God's role in history, avert every calamity? No, not all. Yet, since we and our civilization still stand, it could be argued quite convincingly that they did – with God's help and direction, of course.

But very often they came close to disaster. It was only through military and political figures who understood history that the complete catastrophe was sidestepped. Only when the world finally listened to the clear, historical arguments of individuals like Churchill, did it rise up to challenge and defeat the tyrants of that time. And even that came almost too late. In the same way, Nixon and Reagan used history to guide them in order to open the door to China, put tremendous pressure the collectivist system, and thus bring about the collapse of the most recent "evil empire." It is doubtful they would have acted as they did if neither they nor their advisors knew and appreciated the lessons of past history.

I believe that we could do no better today than to commit as much of history to memory as possible, and so prepare ourselves and our children to meet the new challenges that are sure to arise in the future. They are going to need the knowledge, understanding, insight, and courage that only a Christian view of history can give them. We will have to teach them. Only in this way will we preserve our civilization, and, more important, our freedom!

In closing, if I might allow an Englishman to teach us a little something on this most American of holidays, I think Sir Rudyard Kipling put much of this in proper context when he wrote a poem entitled "Recessional." The author composed this on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Here Kipling well recognizes that boasting and bragging of a mighty empire were quite inappropriate and vain in light of God's direction and dominion over the world. Contrary to popular notions, Kipling was no simple-minded Anglophile jingoist. He regularly and roundly criticized his own nation and its leaders, even his beloved Queen Victoria. His poem is a quite humble call for his fellow Britons to remember God's place in the history and life of their nation. This is a call American believers today can echo and embrace! I've turned the poem into a hymn for use in our church services. Such use is encouraged, especially around the 4th of July – truly a day that God has made!

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

Pastor Spencer

GOD OF OUR FATHERS, KNOWN OF OLD

1) God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath Whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine;

2) The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart;
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
A humble and a contrite heart.

3) Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

4) If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe;
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or other breeds without the Law;

5) For heathen heart that puts his trust
In reeking tube and iron shard;
All valiant dust which builds on dust,
And guarding call not Thee to guard,

6) For frantic boast and foolish word;
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord.
Lest we forget! Lest we forget!


Text: Sir Rudyard Kipling, 1897, adapt. S. Spencer, 1997
Tune: Winchester New (or any Long Meter hymn)

6 comments:

Daniel Baker said...

It is interesting that this topic should appear now, as I just completed a 3-credit, accelerated summer course at the end of the past month on the topic of "World History." The contention of the professor of this particular class fell in line with what is known as the "California School," or the idea that Asian cultures, rather than European, have been the most dominant and influential forces in world history, with the 19th-20th Centuries being "hiccups" in that lineage of dominance.

Whether or not that is the case, it is worth noting that India and China are rapidly catching up to the United States in terms of economic growth and viability. Coupled with the failing policies our government has relied upon over the course of the past century, it is not unreasonable to think that the United States' place as the greatest nation on earth may be in jeopardy.

Now, it must be stated that my professor's perspective was obviously not influenced by the Christian faith. As such, he viewed history as a series of "conjunctures," "contingencies," and "accidents" (those were the three key terms of the class). Rather than a divine order, the results of history (in his mind) have been little more than chaotic coincidence, with kingdoms and peoples rising and falling aimlessly like the tide.

Although the professor may have been significantly misguided on those counts, the facts he provided do lend credence to the notion that the United States has been anything but a collectively Christian nation in its past. Rather, as the post at hand indicates, it has been a nation that God has utilized for His glory, despite its horrible acts of violence (my history teacher at Wisco called the darkest chapters in American history 1) the treatment of the American Indian, 2) the condition of racial slavery, and 3) the legalization of abortion. I agree with his synopsis) and war (see: Manifest Destiny).

In any case, while this may dispel any notion of the idea that the United States is somehow an inherently "Christian" nation, our government is rightly called a divinely-instituted one (as are all governments upon the earth). In that light, I agree heartily with the sentiments of this post.

Daniel Gorman said...

Pastor Spencer: "Now, it could be argued – and has been endlessly since 1776! – that our War of Independence was nothing short of a rejection of and rebellion against God-ordered government. But let's not argue that point now. The fact is, we won the war, or perhaps more correctly stated, God allowed us to win this war, and thus we became a separate nation. In turn, this new nation had a much more "tolerant" view of religion and thus avoided the religious wars and persecutions that hampered Gospel proclamation in the most of the rest of the world. As is so often the case with our great and wise God, he can turn even sin and evil into good!"

You won't allow argument on whether or not the War of Independence was rebellion against God-ordered government. But then you assume that the War of Independence was in fact an unjust war: "God allowed us to win this war. . .[God] can turn even sin and evil into good!". Please withdraw your comments or prove the underlying assumption that the War of Independence was rebellion against God-ordered government.

Pastor Spencer said...

Daniel,

Sorry, I'm not going to "bite" on this argument.

I've read and studied both sides of this debate for more than 50 years, and see good points on both sides. That is not the point of my article, nor the purpose of this blog.

My point is simply that God is in control of the fate of nations - all nations. All their victories, their successes, their celebrations are due to God and His will alone.

Thus, in the midst of our patriotic observance, Americans would do well to temper their pride in the U.S.A. with more than a bit of humility. That's my point - nothing more, nothing less.

Thank you for your comment.

Pastor Spencer

e.p. said...

My understanding is the official WELS stance is that the American Revolution was a rebellion against God-given government, although at the moment I am having trouble finding the exact reference (they reformatted the Q&A section).

-e.p.

e.p. said...

A followup: Here is an archived version in the WELS Q&A section:

Q: Isn't it a sin for a citizen of a country to rebel against the the government? If so, then why do we speak of our own country's rebellion in 1776 in such a positive manner?

A: We don't. We say that the actions of many in formenting unrest against the king and against those who remained loyal to him, especially in New England, were sinful disobedience, not based on scriptural principles.

(emphasis mine)

From:

http://arkiv.lbk.cc/faq/site.pl@1518cutopic_topicid24cuitem_itemid4971.htm

-e.p.

Brad Watson, Miami said...

Pastor(74) Spencer,

Peace. You may be aware that the Hebrew & Aramaic Scriptures ('Old Testament') were written using 'gematria' and the Greek Scriptures ('New Testament') were written using 'isopsephy' (gematria). (The Arabic Qur'an was written using 'hisab al-jummal'; Sufis[74] practice this.) Our global numerical system - which is truly a miracle from GOD - originated in India and Arabia c. 600 AD. Before that, every culture's letters were used as numbers. Roman numerals are the best known example of these ancient alphanumeric codes, yet they were the least logical. (This helped lead to the demise of Latin.) But few realize that there is a 'Simple(6,74) English(7,74) Gematria(8,74)' that's in use and that it's stronger than its predecessors! 'A-B-C becomes 1-2-3'(74). King James I and his 47 Biblical experts used this in compiling his 'Authorized Version' or 'King James Version' (KJV) of the Bible. How do we know this?

The KJV - which German Lutherans usually don't use - is unique in it's introduction to the first four books of the Christian scriptures... "The Gospel(74) according(74) to St.(74) Matthew(7 letters) - Mark(4) - Luke(4) - John(4,47)". Let's look at the names of 'The King'(74): the Jewish(74) Messiah(74)...

Jesus = 74 = J10+E5+S19+U21+S19
Y'shua = 74 = Y25+S19+H8+U21+A1
Joshua = 74 = J10+O15+S19+H8+U21+A1
IESVS = 74 = I9+E5+S19+V22+S19

The United States Founding Fathers(77) used GOD=7_4, 7/4 = July 4th or 7 April ('Good[7__4] Friday' 4/7/30 AD was when Jesus the Nazarene was on the Cross[74 = C3+R18+O15+S19+S19]). 7/4 is most definitely a holi-day(74)!

Why the focus on 7_4 & #74? I presented a one-page-essay/poster at a NASA Conference detailing its connect(74)ion between(74) science & religion(74). See: http://exep.jpl.nasa.gov/exep_exoMtgPosters.cfm . Many (most?) scientists are atheists and/or agnostics, therefore, they don't like my research data and theories, since they use the scientific method to prove very simply, the existence of GOD and Jesus the Christ. Y'shua was born on April 17 6 BC or 17/4/748 AUC (Roman Calendar).

I'm very interested in your reply! I pray that you'll post this comment so as to enlighten everyone and continue this rapport.

Have a good(7__4) 7/4 holiday(74)!

- Brad Watson, Miami

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