If you have ever lived near Philadelphia, you know one truth about the United States that most of the country does not, July 2 is actually Independence Day. The reason for July 4th, depends on the legend, but it was July 2 when the Declaration of Independence was completed. However, it is known to most historians that the signatures were gathered on August 2, 1776. Why is this important? Well it really is not, other than a reminder that what we often think of as clear or black and white is not.
The truth about the founding of our country is that the move for independence was a common desire to have an unjust ruler ousted. In fact, it was the only thing that most of the colonies could agree on. Even at that there were some, like New Jersey, that waffled in their support on the separation from England. The funny aspect, now 238 years later, is that often we have declaratives of how perfect the founding of our country was. In school, the war of independence is often romanticized, and the picture that you get was that our country had their act together.
The truth about the founding of our country is that they really did not know what they were doing. There was a lot of thinking that went into it, studying to make it right, but what they embarked to do was a new thing, and it was risky. In fact, the first government that we had was so bad that people were beginning to petition to go back to the control of Europe. In time, we all know the story, we developed a republican form government dictated through the constitution with democratic ideals. Much to the surprise of the rest of the world, our country survived, if not for unity, for the mere determination of the people to make it work.
Interestingly, as people take the church they often look back 2000 years ago and idealize the early church. They do so in a way that is romantic and sometimes giving the church a lot of credit for knowing more then it did. A movement you often hear in the church “to bring the church back to the simplicity of it essential tenets. We forget that when the disciples and Paul go out, they do so under the direction of Christ, but they do not have a manual of operations. In fact, the canon of the New Testament is not even solidified until the 4th century. Once that was solidified, they still did not agree, since some groups wanted to continue to follow other gospels.
It is safe to say that the early church was anything but unified. At times the early church, as described by Paul, was even hostile towards one another. But what Paul teaches over and over is that to be the church we have to work on being the church. Interestingly, Paul reminds us that the unifying aspect of the church is our faith in Jesus Christ. He also points out that what kills the church is when we use Jesus Christ for our own gain or as a weapon.
But people do that. We often forget what is really important in life in order to let an issue or a debate or our desire to be right destroy everything else. We see that in our country as we see politics turn from the struggle to be a common people to being a sporting event filled with winners and losers. We see it in the church when individuals who don’t get their way leave instead of seeking a common place to come together.
While I do not agree that America was ever founded to be a “Christian Nation” -- there really is no historic proof of that -- there is a lot of Christian influence and similarities, the biggest being that we are called to live in community and continually struggle to find our common place, whether that be a good citizen or a believer in Christ.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen