Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fourth of July Thoughts from One Lutheran Pastor

[I just composed this announcement for the Sunday bulletin of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, the congregation I serve as pastor. It seems to me that Christians should never want to impose their beliefs on others. But I also believe that Christians can be Christians in society without in any way threatening the freedoms of others.]

A Fourth of July Weekend Message from Pastor Mark
On this July 4th weekend, we thank God for a country in which, among other things, we are guaranteed the right to worship God (or even not to worship God) as we see fit. We can be thankful for America's other "greatest generation" for establishing the United States on two principles, each embodied in the two most important documents of our nation's history. In the Declaration of Independence we find the principle of liberty or freedom. In the Constitution is the principle of mutual accountability and responsibility. The Founders and Framers knew that liberty without responsibility is chaos and that responsibility without liberty is tyranny.

The Lutheran Confessions have always seen governments as necessities in a world that has fallen into sin. Without governments, Martin Luther said, Christians walk through the world like lambs among ravenous wolves.

But, in fact, the Christian is always free through Jesus Christ, no matter what rules, just or unjust, the world may impose on them. We are freed from sin, death, and futility. Knowing that we belong to God for all eternity, we are freed to be fully human beings who love God and love neighbor, even putting others' interests above our own. But, out of love for God and neighbor and in order to preserve that order without which there can be no justice, the Christian seeks to obey just governments and laws.

Lutheran heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by a Nazi firing squad during World War 2, have shown us that when governments become unjust, as happened in Germany under Hitler, the Christian also has an obligation, out of love for God and neighbor, to stand against tyranny.

On this weekend when we Lutheran Christians express our love for America, we might well embrace a maxim given in the late-1960s by a US admiral, at the height of the Vietnam War: "Not 'My country, wrong or right,' but, 'My country: When right to keep it right; when wrong to make it right."

As Christians, we believe that we can only make America go right when we personally follow Jesus Christ and follow His commands as we participate lovingly and respectfully in a society that, under the wonderful freedom we enjoy in the United States, includes people of many different religious beliefs. For that reason, I hope that your Fourth of July won't only be, "God bless America," but also and more importantly, "America, bless God."

In 2 Chronicles 16:9, we find these words, "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him.." As followers of Jesus blessed to live in America, may we be true to the God we know in Jesus Christ. As we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, may we always remember that our highest allegiance is to our God and King, revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ.


Greg said...

Great post, Mark. Any idea on how to appease a ministry group that wants me to put together a "patriotic" video presentation for the 4th at church that isn't sacrilegious?


Mark Daniels said...

Not knowing the details, it's hard for me to say. But as a general rule, I would advise choosing ones battles carefully. There is a place for patriotism in Christian faith, of course. But much of what passes for patriotism amounts to idolatry. Again, I know nothing about your situation there, so on this, as in everything else I say, don't view it as particularly authoritative.

God bless.