Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Independence Day

July 4th, Independence Day, is without a doubt an American holiday. Unlike Christmas, Easter or Reformation Day, Independence Day exists because of national history, not necessarily because of a special event in Christian history. On the contrary, while the other holidays mentioned above could be celebrated by Christians worldwide, the 4th of July is distinct only to American citizens. Therefore, even the Christians in the U.S. that do celebrate the 4th of July represent a minority of the global Church of Jesus Christ. Preferred are those holidays that one could have in common with brothers and sisters in Christ who today live just outside the Olympic village in Beijing, are gathering in small apartments in Albania or loving each other in the impoverished cities of South America. A national holiday celebrating freedom from the former political ruler (England; now close NATO ally) may make sense from a view point of nationalism, but does it make Christian sense? What is particularly "Christian" about Independence Day? How do fireworks and BBQs recall the work of Christ, renew trust in him for the present and develop greater hope for the future?

A search through the New Testament reveals 36 times that derivations of the Greek term eleutheros is used. It conveys the basic idea of "free" in the sense of being delivered from something which restricts or oppresses. The noun form comes out simply as "freedom": that state in which one is unrestricted from a specific impediment. The adjective form describes one as being "free" as opposed to being enslaved or oppressed. The verb has a few different directions it can take, including: "to set free" someone by action or decree, and "to be set free" by similar means. Regardless of the multiple uses, "freedom" (noun), "free" (adjective" and "to set free" (verb) all trace a significant theme in the Bible. Although freedom from political oppression is not prescribed in the New Testament anywhere, freedom from the soul-oppressive forces to which we succumb through sin is a frequent message. Freedom given in Christ from those formerly enslaving forces which we could not resist is given plenty of "airtime."

Nevertheless, the founders of the United States could not have credibly asserted that they followed a biblical mandate by violently throwing off British rule during the revolution. On the contrary, conscientious Christians wrestled with both sides of the issue. After reading Romans 13:1 ("Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God."), Christians understandably wondered which government they should be subject to: The existing one? Or the emerging one?

Now, however, debates about whether Christians at the time should have submitted to the British government or the emerging revolutionary government are moot. The revolution occurred, and it is not reversible. While political freedom is not prescribed in the Scriptures, it was in fact the result of the American Revolution. Total freedom is a theoretical abstraction that no human enjoys...anywhere...ever. However, the emerging United States of American did indeed gain "freedom" from the specific abuses of British rule outlined in the Declaration of Independence. Freedom was won from very specific oppressive forces that formerly impeded citizens' ability to live and function as they do now. A very real and tangible difference can be seen between the civil experience under King George and that which emerged in America following the revolution. It is this difference that we call "freedom."

In this way the American Revolution, though not a distinctly Christian holiday, serves as a historic analogy to Christian reality. It is because of this analogous nature of Independence Day that Christians should celebrate it. It would be unfortunate for Christians to celebrate the 4th of July without this in mind, for one's faith must always trump nationalism. Nevertheless, let Christians celebrate Independence Day with joyful zeal, knowing that the real freedom won for them is that which no musket could ever achieve, only a Cross.

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