“Who would have ever thought it possible?” asks John Ferling, eminent historian of American history. What he was asking, of course, is who would have thought it possible that a ragtag army of citizen sol- diers could take on the greatest military power in the world—and win! Yet, on October 19, 1781, as the band played “The World Turned Upside Down,” British general Lord Cornwallis surrendered his army to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia; and America’s long, hard-fought struggle for freedom was over.
It almost didn’t happen. Numerous times the poorly trained and equipped Continental Army was on the brink of defeat, constantly facing the greatest of odds. That they did prevail was “almost a miracle,” noted Washington afterwards. But it was a miracle due to those who believed passionately in the cause for free- dom and who ultimately sacrificed much—their homes, their wealth, some even their lives.
But even that wasn’t enough to ensure victory. Something else needed to happen for an upstart, loosely connected group of colonies to defeat a superpower. That miracle, according to Washington, came as the result of divine intervention. Others among the founding fathers felt the same. Thomas Jefferson said at the time, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty.”
Some two thousand years ago, God did another miracle of sorts. We celebrated recently the fact that
the Holy Spirit was the spark that gave life to the Church on the Day of Pentecost. In some respects, the newborn Church faced even greater odds for survival than those original thirteen colonies. They started small—just a few thousand believers. They faced opposition and even persecution at every turn. And they lived in a world of competing religions, most of which were hostile to Christianity.
Still, not only did the church survive, it spread throughout the world. Central to its message was the “Good News” of God’s love for all and, out of that, the life, death and resurrection of a savior, Jesus Christ. That is still our message today. It is what we proclaim as the church, and it is meant to be the “fruit” of our lives as Christ-followers.
Ironically, it seems, both our nation and the Church are in crisis today, and for some of the same reasons. One reason has to do with our collective memories. It is as if we have forgotten who we are; forgotten (or intentionally shifted away from) those values that were at the core of our identity and being; forgotten what it took in human lives and sacrifice to become a great nation and the “Body of Christ.”
Instead, what we have today is enmity and strife across our land, which I see as a serious challenge to who and what we are as a democracy. At the same time, there is the sense that the Church is declining, maybe even losing its way. Sadly, it is a crisis of our own making, mostly, I believe, because we as a peo- ple have ignored Paul’s warning about “being in the world but not of it.”
What is the answer? How do we find our way again? Once again, history offers a lesson.
In the throes of a bitter war, in which the outcome was still much in doubt, members of the Continental Congress came together in Philadelphia to forge a new republic out of the thirteen unique and often contentious colonies. The debates were long and sometimes angry, even to the point that some were ready to give up on the dream of a free nation. Realizing how perilous things were, Benjamin Franklin addressed the assembly and called the delegates to go to God in prayer; and so, the relationship between America and the Creator was affirmed from the very beginning. That line in the beautiful hymn says it all: “GOD HAS SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE.”
While many debate the role of religion in public life and policy today, no one can deny that America and religion, specifically Christianity, have been intertwined even before the days of the founding fathers. For good or bad, it is a big part of who we are. The founding fathers, for the most part, saw it as good. If you are not sure, take a moment to read the Declaration of Independence.
Actually, that would be a good thing, don’t you think? Especially as we celebrate the Fourth of July—the birth of our nation. It reminds us of so much we need to remember. Certainly as citizens of our country, but also as those who have taken Christ’s name as our own. And if we have taken his name, shouldn’t we also claim his life, and love, and example? I would like to hear your thoughts.
In the love of Christ,