Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Letting Go of The Past

Is the United States a Christian nation? Was it ever? What is a "Christian nation"? These are complicated questions that admit to no simple answer. The first amendment of the Constitution is against establishment of religion. Is establishment of religion required to be a Christian nation? Now some would say that not establishing religion makes us a secular nation. But the establishment of non-religion is as bad as the establishment of religion. And is contrary to the free exercise allowed by the same amendment. The basic idea behind the first amendment is freedom of conscience. That at least within broad boundaries we should be allowed to believe what we want about the basic nature of this universe and to practice that belief. This is a principle that cuts both ways and is not necessarily contrary to Christian belief. But if we are to regard ourselves as a Christian nation, it must be argued on other grounds.

We can claim that we have a Christian heritage. Some claim the founding fathers were Christians, others they were Deists. In fact, some were Christians, some were Deists, and some were somewhere in the middle. But Deism is watered-down Christianity. So does democratic government come from the Christians or the Deists? It traces back through the English Glorious Revolution to the Long Parliament and ultimately to the Puritans. In general, the Reformed branch of the Reformation supported popular government. This was reasonable, because it fit with their popular form of church government. Even the idea of separation of church and state can be traced back to the Baptists, who are a particular branch of the Reformed tradition. Therefore, it may be argued here that the modern republican form of government comes through Christianity and works best within a Christian context. But this is an argument that needs to be made, not assumed.

The bottom line is, even if we were once a Christian nation (depending on your definition), we are no longer. We may have a certain part of the population that holds on to certain number of Christian principles and morals (a number getting smaller every day) through pure inertia. But this inertia does not stand up well under pressure.  And unless we are making a specific point, I am convinced we need to regard ourselves as Christians in a non-Christian culture and work from there. I am not in any way suggesting despair or passivity. But I am suggesting we put aside our sense of entitlement that assumes our beliefs will be respected, which often results in anger and vitriol. We need to recognize that God never promised us we would be comfortable in the world. But we must trust Him by continuing to follow Him and do His work, even in a hostile environment. And we must not take the acceptance of Christianity for granted, but work to convince people of it. And use the past only if it is valuable for making a case.

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