By Daryl C. Cornett for Baptist Press
Independence Day is my favorite holiday — an occasion to celebrate our country’s existence and have some mandatory fun!
There is nothing particularly religious about it, and that’s just fine. I like the family gatherings, cookouts, parades and fireworks. I like all the red, white and blue. It is an uncorrupted holiday that is exactly what it is supposed to be.
However, I believe that this secular occasion affords us the opportunity for important spiritual perspective and reflection.
First, Independence Day is an occasion to express thankfulness for God’s gift of our American government and its perseverance. This year we celebrate the passing of 242 years since a small group of men, representing 13 British colonies, asserted that the time had come to declare their independence. They made a long list of grievances against England and declared that independence was necessary and right. After winning a war that few thought possible, the confederation of the new states decided to unite under a federal government with its own constitution.
Christians throughout history have lived within a variety of governmental arrangements — monarchies, dictatorships, communist states and democratic republics of various forms. It is fitting to celebrate that in God’s gracious providence He has blessed us with government that guards against abusive power. The design of three separate branches has proven to be a practical check against the consolidation of too much power in one place. Christians can give thanks that God has graciously allowed our context to be a democratic republic in which we get to participate in the election of our own leaders and enjoy the privileges and protections of a constitution with a primary view toward preventing oppressive government.
Additionally, we can give thanks that by God’s grace we are still here. Every nation takes for granted its own existence. Human pride causes us to believe that the United States will always be just as it is today — powerful, prosperous and blessed. No empire thinks in its days of dominance that a time could come when it wouldn’t exist. Romans 13:1 reminds us, “… For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” We should be thankful for our Founders — Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, and many others. However, we should acknowledge that our country’s existence originates from the hand of divine providence. The signers of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged this in its closing words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” As we celebrate with our material comforts and security, let’s be careful to give thanks to the One who has given these good gifts and who has preserved our nation.
Second, we should remember to pray for our leaders. The apostle Paul instructed Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers and intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions….” It doesn’t matter if you voted for him or even if you like him, your Christian political stewardship is to pray earnestly for him. She may be the antithesis of all your political views, but God has seen fit to put her in that position of leadership. Pray for her.
Third, Independence Day is an occasion for the church to renew its commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel. Because God has continued to bless us with a free society, the door for the sharing of the Gospel remains wide open. Our culture has always had sin problems. Where sinful people exist in a fallen world, the enemy is always at work challenging God’s design. Spiritual darkness pushes back against God’s good news.
In America we have incredible freedom to proclaim our faith. We should be thankful that the first of the amendments to the Constitution provides every individual with freedom for personal religion. The first phrase promises this freedom. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Since this was adopted in 1791, we have periodically fussed about what constitutes an establishment of religion but never questioned that each of us has the right to our own personal faith and the right to share it with others. We may receive some rejection, but no one is arresting us for telling others about Jesus.
We would do well to be mindful that our American freedom must not be squandered on selfish individualism. We have all the freedom we could ever ask for to live out our faith with boldness and share it with others without fear of persecution.
On this Independence Day, let our hearts be full of gratitude for what God has established, pray for those God has seen fit to put into leadership, and remember that God continues to give us the freedom to be salt and light to our neighbors and impact our communities with the hope of the Gospel.
Daryl C. Cornett is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hazard, Ky., a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and former associate professor of church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.