Tuesday, July 1, 2008
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Framing Today's Issues for Contemporary Biblical Christians
Dear Friends,

As a Pastor, I make it a point to preach at least one message a year that reflects what I am thinking about America. Below is the message that is on my heart for this year, and which I'd like to share with you in celebration of our "Freedom, Law, and American Independence". I hope you have a wonderful July 4th holiday.

I will be spending the holiday in Medical Lake at Silver Lake Camp.
If you happen to live in the Spokane area, we would be honored if you joined us. The public is welcome each night for the 7pm service, including Friday, the final night, when I will be preaching a message entitled "America in Bible Prophecy." It's a great camp! I hope to see you there!

Yours for the Kingdom,

Pastor Joe

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Freedom, Law, and American Independence
Dr. Joseph B. Fuiten
By Dr. Joseph B. Fuiten
June 29, 2008 Sermon Notes
(Audio | Text)


It is a confusing time for many Conservative Christians in America because our long-held consensus is rapidly breaking down.

The number of Christians who can apply their faith to matters of public policy is rapidly shrinking, if we are to believe the most recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public life. "Relatively few adults (14%) cite their religious beliefs as the main influence on their political thinking - about the same number as cite their education as being most important (13%). Far more cite their personal experience (34%) as being most important in shaping their political views. An additional 19% identify what they see or read in the media as the most important influence in shaping their political views."
[1]

This bodes badly for the future of America as we have known it. In World War II, on the eve of the D-Day invasion, Franklin Roosevelt led the nation in prayer where he identified the success of the war with preserving "our religion." Sixty years later, no American president would say we have a religion, let alone lead us in prayer for its preservation.

Virtually every aspect of our civilization is rooted in the application of Christian ideas.Last year I preached a two part message called "Christianity the Uplifting Force of Civilization."
[2] I showed what the application of our Christian faith has meant to the role of women and the family. I showed how it transformed health care, science, education, economics, and even our concepts of freedom. All these things are now at risk. They are at risk because Christianity in general, and evangelicalism in particular, is becoming increasingly anemic.

A majority (57%) of Evangelicals now believe that many religions can lead to eternal life.More than two-thirds of adults affiliated with a religious tradition agree that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, a pattern that occurs in nearly all traditions."
Fully 83% of mainline church members believe this."[3]

These survey results essentially mean that truth has been lost to most religious people including Evangelicals. With truth lost, the things that rest upon those truths will also ultimately be lost. It may take a generation or two but when the foundation is lost so ultimately is the building.

Christians today are not what their fathers were. The God of our Fathers is not their God. As a consequence, Christians today will not be able to produce what their fathers produced. We might still be able to say the words "Fourscore and seven years ago our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," but we now lack the spiritual discernment and intellectual ideas to conceive a nation in liberty.

Yale historian Harry S. Stout wrote an article in Christian History magazine titled, "Christianity and the American Revolution". Here is what he said about America at the time of the Revolution:

Over the span of the colonial era, American ministers delivered approximately 8 million sermons, each lasting one to one-and-a-half hours. The average 70-year-old colonial churchgoer would have listened to some 7,000 sermons in his or her lifetime, totaling nearly 10,000 hours of concentrated listening. This is the number of classroom hours it would take to receive ten separate undergraduate degrees in a modern university, without ever repeating the same course!

Events were perceived not from the mundane, human vantage point but from God's. The vast majority of colonists were Reformed or Calvinist, to whom things were not as they might appear at ground level: all events, no matter how mundane or seemingly random, were parts of a larger pattern of meaning, part of God's providential design.

The outlines of this pattern were contained in Scripture and interpreted by discerning pastors. - [Today] taxation and representation are political and constitutional issues, having nothing to do with religion. But to eighteenth-century ears, attuned to lifetimes of preaching, the issues were inevitably religious as well.

When understood in its own times, the American Revolution was first and foremost a religious event.
[4]
 
If the founding of the country was "a religious event" the continuation of the country has become a non-religious, even an anti-religious event. The words of the Apostle Paul come to mind: "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?"
[5]

Too many Christians today can no longer see the connection between America and the cause of Christ. The smoke and haze of the battle have obscured their view of the battlefield. They no longer see America as something special in the plans of God.

Given the extraordinarily strong Christian faith expressed in our founding, our forefathers secured for America the blessing of God for three or four generations. Even today, we have a large percentage of Christians who serve God. I don't know another nation on earth who would have more than we have. We have been blessed, that is easy enough to see. Such blessing is an indication of purpose. To whom much is given, much is required.

If we are indeed on the wrong track as a country, and are being undone, what is the cause of this problem? I would suggest that we have adopted a very un-American, and un-Christian view of freedom.

D. Elton Trueblood wrote, "Freedom is our holy cow. Everyone believes in freedom, just as everyone is against sin, but the meaning is far from clear. Who is opposed to freedom? Nobody!"

The current generation of Americans has changed the definition of freedom and then exaggerated the emphasis upon freedom. America in particular and the West in general, are rapidly descending into political chaos under the flag of personal freedom. In the past four centuries, we have gone from John Donne's "no man is an island" to Libertarianism's and Liberalism's "every man is an island."

The Libertarian Party, founded in 1972 in America, is a classic illustration. Libertarianism as a classic political philosophy is reasonable enough. It stresses the rights of the individual and the very Lockian ideas that we each own ourselves and have the right to apply our labor to Nature and extract ownership of land and property in that way. Historically, they have opposed any kind of taxation and government interference in the economy. There is a darker side to this. It is instructive that American anarchists in the 1800's were the champions of Libertarianism.
 
John Locke and Liberty

The man most responsible for the advance of liberty in the West was John Locke. His work, On Civil Government, stood as a decisive guide, not just in his homeland of England, but in the emergence of the United States of America. He wrote the work as a kind of defense of the English Civil War and Revolution culminating in 1689.

In the great rebellion of that period, for the first time in England and in the history of the West, the king was firmly challenged in a sustained revolt resulting in a constitutional and representative government grounded in a legislature backed by private citizens who were politically active. Locke provided the spiritual reasoning and political cover for this rebellion.

Across the ocean in the colonies of America, the preachers began to read and preach Locke's principles. In many ways they preached Locke as though his writings were the fifth gospel. In doing so, the preachers laid the spiritual and political foundation for the American Revolution and Republic. It was Locke who penned the phrase "Life, Liberty, and Property."

A few years later, Thomas Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, would only slightly modify the phrase to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." However, Jefferson's meaning mirrored Locke's. For both men, there was a Creator behind the process who granted life and liberty and who was sovereign over man and king.

The meaning assigned to those famous words has dramatically changed since they were written. In fact, the meaning has been so dramatically changed that they now mean almost the opposite of what their authors intended. Consider what John Locke actually wrote in his treatise, On Civil Government:
 
"The natural Liberty of Man is to be free from any Superior Power on Earth, and not to be under the Will or Legislative Authority of Man, but to have only the Law of Nature for his Rule. The Liberty of Man, in Society, is to be under no other Legislative Power, but that established by consent in the Common-wealth, nor under the Dominion of any Will, or Restraint of any Law, but what the Legislative shall enact according to the trust put in it.

Freedom is not what Sir R. F. tells us "A liberty for every one to do what he wants, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied to any Laws." But Freedom of Men under Government, is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the Legislative power erected in it. A liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule does not prescribe, and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man."
 
In Locke's vision, the natural liberty of man is to have only the "law of nature for his rule." The term "Law of Nature," had a precise meaning to Locke. God created the world, which Locke called Nature, and placed man in that world. As man worked, he came to own a piece of Nature, making it his own. The "Law of Nature" is that Law which has been established by Nature's God. Natural Law is the rule of God. In contrast to natural liberty, Locke posed the liberty of man in society.

Liberty in society meant that man would not be governed by the arbitrary authority of a monarch. Instead, the only restraint that could be put on natural liberty was that restraint placed there by the consent of the governed expressed in a lawful legislature. For Locke, if the people elected a legislature and the legislature passed laws according to the trust placed in them to govern, this was not a restriction upon liberty.

Locke absolutely denied the libertarian vision of things which was then being expressed by someone that he calls Sir R. F. Liberty is NOT the freedom from laws or authority. For Locke, liberty is not the absence of governmental laws or legislative rules.

Freedom, or liberty, had a very specific meaning. There were several components to freedom:

Freedom required a standing rule. It could not flow from a new decision of one person, namely the monarch, or from a new rule of the group. To be a standing rule, it had to be in place before it could be violated. The rule had to be established and published before it could take effect.
Freedom required that the laws apply equally to every person. There could not be one set of rules for the King and another for the commoner, or one for the rich and another for the poor.

The rule had to be written and have been decided by the legislature. It could not be arbitrary or decided by the King alone.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." In the language of the Bible, to be free is to come under the rule of Christ. "You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" This biblical concept of freedom is acceptable to Locke as the definition of liberty.

Locke derived his ideas from the Bible. What he wrote was a further development of Paul's ideas. Remember, to be legitimate, the rule had to be a standing rule, and apply equally to all. In Lockian terms, the rule of Christ is legitimate because the subjects have agreed to be governed by these rules. James, the brother of Jesus, would certainly agree. He described God's law as, "...the perfect law that gives freedom.".

Modern Americans, including Christians, have changed our concept of freedom under law to freedom without law. We cannot stand on marriage between a man and a woman because too many Christians think homosexuals should be free -- free to marry and free to violate God's law. If left with only one alternative, the modern Christian abandons God's law in favor of the anarchy which is what "freedom" is becoming.

 

[1] Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life / U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, June 2008.
[2] http://www.cedarpark.org/resources/media/html.php?id=96
[3] Pew cited above
[4] Elesha Coffman, editor of Christian History Magazine, quoting from Vol 50 of that publication.
[5] Galatians 3:3, NIV.

Dr. Joseph B. Fuiten is the senior pastor of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Washington, and he is the former president of Positive Christian Agenda. Currently, Pastor Fuiten serves on the Board of Directors for the Family Policy Institute of Washington, an associate organization of Focus on the Family.