The Church, Justice, and Independence Day
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
It’s not at all uncommon for churches to observe the Fourth of July. Today, I passed a church building whose grounds were lined with American flags. Yet such practices have increasingly come under fire as some form of political idolatry. Scot McKnight addresses this issue in a recent blog post. He begins with three preliminary statements in defense of celebrating the Fourth of July:
The most critical of celebrating July 4th on Sunday are progressive evangelicals and liberals.
The defining characteristic of progressive evangelicals and liberals is justice.
Celebrating freedom and release from oppression and reveling in the achievement of peace and justice are God-directed in the Bible.
McKnight suggests that the Fourth of July can be a day to raise awareness in the worldwide sense. He concludes by writing:
“Frankly, I can’t think of a better place to celebrate with thanksgiving before God for freedom and justice than in a church, in a place that focuses our attention on God, and in a place where a cross puts before us the price to be paid for those who want that final and full justice.”
Personally, I couldn’t agree more that the flag should not be confused as some type of “liturgical symbol,” just as I would also agree that not all references to our nation need to be construed as a form of unrestrained nationalism or political idolatry.
Derek Webb sings, “my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a man, but to a King and a kingdom.” While I couldn’t agree more, I’d certainly add that the love for God and country are not mutually exclusive.
I support the involvement of Christians in the political arena. Caution and concern are justified when such involvement becomes obsessive, most typically indicated by the kinds of back-biting and finger-pointing that dominate political message boards or Facebook groups.
So while I think there’s excellent reason to be cautious on the issues of politics, I see no reason why the Fourth of July cannot be a day to set aside our many, many (many) arguments about what’s wrong with America, and rightly honor and celebrate the many things that are so very right with America.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.
Human beings, as we’ve just noted, bear God’s image. We “take after” God, so to speak—much as we might say that a child “takes after” his earthly father. It means that we share with God some aspect of his character, his nature, even his gifts. In the immediate context of Genesis, this means two things. Because man bears the image of a Creator, we share in his capacity for creativity. And because we bear the image of God’s divine community (Father, Son, and Spirit), we share in his capacity for relationship.
Or perhaps “capacity” is too clinical a term for such elemental gifts. For these qualities are indeed divine gifts, just as human language likewise has its origin in God himself. In his recent work on the clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson notes that “God is himself the source of human language. He is the first speaker and invests language with a deep significance for generation and nourishing personal relationships.”
If language is a divine gift, writing becomes a liturgical practice. It is through language that the human needs for creativity and relationship are brought together. Surely writing is not the only means of human communication, but there is a uniqueness to the craft that cannot be so easily snuffed out by a so-called “post-literate” world. When we write, we write to engage the world—or at least our small corner of it. We write in order to hone our God-given skills of creativity and make a meaningful contribution to humanity’s collective imagination. We write because it’s in our blood, in our hands, in our soul.
Christianity says that God’s Word shaped God’s original creation, but God’s Word likewise takes prominence in God’s new creation. “In the beginning was the Word,” John tells us—cribbing lines from the opening pages of Genesis. The Word of God, once confined to the page now takes on human flesh in the person of Jesus. Christianity calls this the incarnation, meaning that in Jesus God literally became a human being to walk among us, to share life with us, and to give his life that we might live.
Writing is part of the way we engage and share the gospel narrative. Writing is therefore an incarnational practice, a means by which the story of God is translated into the various languages of human culture.
Living the gospel narrative means not only “take and read” but also “write and give.” Every voice is different. Every voice matters.