“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (I Pet. 2:15-17).
One might ask if the founding fathers of this nation were honoring the king when, by force of conviction, they separated the colonies of the Americas from the British crown? And by all accounts, at least from our perspective, the answer is yes. But which crown?
The freedom that was declared in 1776, that we remember on July 4th, led to a bitter and costly war. Fought by men from every facet of colonial life, supported by women and children – they fought to be free – not a limitless freedom that results in anarchy, but a freedom that comes from restrained and defined governance, personal liberty, and social responsibility.
Liberty often stands on the edge of oblivion; as we face numerous encroachments to liberty as a nation and as individuals. Freedom is hard work, difficult to secure, and very easy to lose.
With few but poignant words, a nation was established upon the Judeo-Christian heritage that has, for the past 246 years, stood as an example of freedom; even when we did not live up to our own noble standard. In the words of the Declaration of Independence:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Modern history has unfolded in the shadow of four (4) revolutions: the English, American, French, and Russian revolutions respectively. The English and American revolutions, fought by people of faith, brought forth a new birth of freedom – their respective founding documents reflecting God and biblical principles.
The French and Russian revolutions were fought largely by those embracing secular worldviews, which, for many years, brought forth a new birth of terror and personal restriction – these founding documents avoided God entirely, thereby making the state the source of personal liberty, which allows for revocation of that freedom.
In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy said,
“We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end as well as a beginning – signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”
The framers – even with their imperfections – designed a nation, upon Biblical precepts, where people from all cultures and creeds could live – even in or with disagreement.
When we consider the monumental words of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
These fundamental rights, which many of us scarcely think about, are the first to be taken away by tyrannical governments; but our founders expressly stated that the United States would not have a state-approved religion over which they govern; they would not hinder its expression, provided that it did not infringe upon the safety and well-being of another; that we can express openly our thoughts – in speech and in writing; that we can peaceably assemble, even in descent; and that we can, as the people of this nation, have our voice heard by those in political office.
What we find, in this first amendment, is what might be called “liberty of conscience.” The understanding that the “power” cannot tell the governed what to think, believe or accept. This is of vital importance, whether one is religious or non-religious, the liberty of conscience must be safeguarded.
The framers left room in society for agreement and dissent with political office and political power. This is where we as a people, as a society, control the ebb and flow of our moral, cultural, and social atmosphere. Government is to be about the structure of the state as it pertains to the liberty of its citizens – religion is to be an influence on and in the society, shepherding the culture in which we live. This has allowed for the great principles set forth in our founding documents to unfold over the course of our history; sadly, not always perfectly – but we cannot cease in our efforts.
Thomas Jefferson wrote so poetically, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?”
As we celebrate the 4th of July holiday, let us remember that its meaning speaks to the very heart of who we are to be as a people – a people endowed with freedom by their Creator, who bear the responsibility for its continuation.
As George Washington wrote, “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
The Living God most certainly has shed His grace upon us – therefore, let us not squander what has been freely given, and so nobly secured by citizens from all walks of life.