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One nation under God?


Depending on whether you lean left or right will determine the degree to which you believe this nation was founded by people personally governed by biblical principles. At the least I've concluded that few of them would meet the rigid standards of our new evangelicalism but that most of them held a biblical worldview. The system of government they created relied on Old Testament law and New Testament morality. Underneath that new legal system were strong convictions about religious freedom, the rule of law, the value of human life, the depravity of man, and the Sovereign guidance of God. What is more, the world viewed the new nation as a Christian nation.

How the world viewed the United States of America was confirmed for me in one verbal snapshot from my current daily read, The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, reprint edition). McCullough is a thorough biographer and an acknowledged, recognized historian. Occasionally his text gives intimate peeks into American life during the time period of the person or events being remembered. There were several ah-ha moments in The Wright Brothers. One occurred when Wilbur Wright went to Le Mans, France to demonstrate the flying machine to government officials, early aviation enthusiasts, and the curious. The flying machine had been damaged in transit from Dayton, Ohio, resulting in long delays in the demonstration. He finally flew for them on a hot Saturday evening, keeping the machine in the air for several minutes and traveling around for approximately two miles. Everyone there knew he could have flown farther and longer. They persisted in asking him to repeat the flight on Sunday. His response was no. A French newspaper explained it this way---"Today, because it is Sunday, M. Wright, a good American, would not think of breaking the Sabbath". He flew again on Monday.

It was how French journalists viewed Americans in 1908. They didn't say Wilbur Wright was a good Christian or a good United Brethren in Christ church member. He was a "good American", and a good American wouldn't think of breaking the Sabbath to fly.

That was then, of course, and this is now. Whether historians want to admit the biblical worldview and Christian orientation of the nation back then isn't really a matter of debate. Our current pluralism and obsession with diversity closes the eyes of most of them. Still, scrolling through the American epoch, examining the lives of those who led us then, and observing the national psyche registers American exceptionalism as a product of innovation, opportunity, resources, and faith. A vast majority of the American citizenry were Christians and lived Christian lives.

Today, though Christianity still ranks as the largest religious affiliation, the numbers are declining. The number of "convictional Christians" continues to trend downward while those identified as "nominal Christians" is on the rise. In this new world those who mark census records with "none" as their religious preference is the fastest growing subset. We no longer live in that Christian world. Now, morality is "fifty shades of gray", absolute truth is denied across the board, and suddenly we're the "post-Christian" culture, at least the "post-church culture".

That's why so many of the recommendations about how believers should vote in the 2016 election just won't work. The norms have changed. Mine haven't and perhaps not yours. But, now, we must learn to live as Christ followers in a distinctly non-Christian world. We can't choose leaders like Israel did in the Old Testament. It's a worthy sentiment and a goal that we should pray for. But, our nation isn't a clan or tribe choosing our elected officials from within our own ranks exclusively. Along the same lines, we'd better learn Godly wisdom in choosing the lesser of many evils because we live in a fallen world and our choices are going to be increasingly secular.

Jesus taught his disciples about living as aliens in this world. One day he told them, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). It's really an ugly picture, sheep among wolves. But, he wanted them to be innocent and peaceful as well as wise. Wise as snakes. Some versions translate wise as "shrewd". In another teaching he said, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

James wrote to pray for wisdom with the promise that our God would provide it. We can't escape to the cloister in these times but must live as his kingdom people in them. So, let's pray for wisdom and seek his guidance as we learn our place out there. Remember King David, a man after God's own heart, who "...served the purpose of God in his own generation..." (Acts 13:36).

We must serve him right now, when and where he placed us, and learn to be light in an increasingly dark world.


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