Be thankful for America, but do not rest your hope in her4
This is the weekend leading up to the celebration of Independence Day, or the July 4th holiday, in the United States. Our nation does not have as long a history as others, but it does seem very long and far away to celebrate an event that occurred 240 years ago. On July 4, 1776, 12 of the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration Independence authored largely by Thomas Jefferson (New York would adopt it on July 19). This was not the beginning of American independence, for the colonies’ conflict with England began more than a year earlier on April 19, 1775, in Lexington, Massachusetts. But it was a formal declaration of the colonies calling for separation from Britain. The war would last another five years, but ultimately a new nation would be founded, the United States of America.
The United States has had much to commend her over the succeeding two centuries: it is one of the few nations where transitions of power are not marked by violence and military coups; it is a place where explicit restraints are placed upon governmental power to ensure individual liberties; and the United States has opposed the worst forms of tyranny (e.g. Nazism and Communism) around the world to ensure freedom for others at cost to herself. To be sure, America in not perfect – there are injustices in America just as there are in other places. The Declaration in 1776 did not do away with sin, or the depravity of man (Ephesians 2:1-3). But if we think in terms of relative peace, prosperity, and freedom, I believe that there is good reason to declare that the United States is among the greatest nations ever.
This is especially important for Christians today. The Bible warns us that the Church will be hated by the world (Mark 13:13) and that Christians will experience persecution merely for following Christ (John 15:18-20; 1 Peter 4:12-19). We should expect the scorn of the world for preaching the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:21, 25). We should not be surprised that unbelievers are hostile when confronted with their sin; it not only makes sense, but our Lord told us to expect it. The Church in America has been spared from the worst consequences of persecution by the Lord, so much so that we have come to view such mercy as a right we deserve instead of a kind Providence from a loving God. As American Christians, we must understand this because even though we are (and should be) thankful for our country, we must not confuse the gifts of God with our rights as Americans. It is but the grace and mercy of God that keeps us from experiencing the horrors of Egyptian Christians who are trying to worship, or the murder of a Chinese pastor by North Korean agents, or the imprisonment of Christians in Laos for sharing the gospel. As a report highlighted on CNN stated: “Christian persecution reached record high in 2015.”
This means that while we have much to be thankful for and praise God for on behalf of the United States, we cannot think that the future of the Church depends on America. Nations have come and gone, but the Church remains – the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18). Now is not the time to denigrate our nation, but it is also the time to acknowledge that our hope (Titus 2:11) is in the One who has promised that He will return and set all things right. Enjoy your holiday on Monday, commemorating American Independence, but enjoy more your opportunity to worship the Lord this Lord’s Day. Please also feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment about things you are thankful for this July 4th.