As the evening of the Fourth of July approaches, I thought I would offer a few words that might salve the consciences of some sensitive Christians when it comes time to set off the fireworks tonight. And no, I am not here talking about the conscience issues raised by firing off what citizens have affectionately come to nickname “the illegals.” These can be obtained from enterprising Native Americans on the reservation just up the road, but that is another issue for another time.
The issue is celebrating the fact of our declaration of secession 230 years ago. Some believers perhaps think that Paul’s requirement in Romans 13 (that Christians obey the existing authorities) was blithely disregarded when the shooting started. And this is not at all the case. The shooting started because Parliament was disregarding the constitutional arrangements of the kingdom, and the colonists were resisting the innovations. The point is what distinguishes a revolution (in the sense that word took on after the French Revolution) and a war of independence.
This is why our War for Independence was legal, and ought to be celebrated. The king of England was not just the king of England. He was also the king of Scotland, and the king of Virginia, and Connecticut, and Maryland. All these different political entities had a common executive in the king, just as Maryland, Idaho, California, and Montana have a common executive in the president. The difference from our present arrangement was in the fact that there was no equivalent of a universal legislature. It would be as though Maryland, Idaho, California, and Montana each had their legislative body, but there was no national legislative body, no Congress. Let’s all just sit down and imagine that for a while, and perhaps set off an extra firecracker or something.
This meant that England had her own legislature (Parliament), and Virginia had her own legislature (the House of Burgesses), and so on. The point of unity was in the king, not in the legislature. This was commonly known and understood at the time, and was the meaning behind the phrase we have all heard — “no taxation without representation.” This was not being urged by the colonists as some sort of novelty in the law (e.g. like a suffragette shouting “votes for women”), but rather it was being advanced as a settled principle of English law (e.g.. like a gun rights activist today referring to the right to “keep and bear arms”). In other words, it was illegal for Parliament to levy taxes on entities that were not represented in Parliament because they already had their own legislatures.
Like all such encroachments, this one had a slow build. As a result of the English Civil War, King Charles I had been beheaded. Cromwell ruled as the Lord Protector, his son was not able to hold it together after Oliver’s death, and so Charles II was brought back in the Restoration. But in the behavior of Charles II, and with James after him, it became obvious that these monarchs had not really learned the appropriate life lessons from the turmoil. Just mark it down as kings behaving badly. This led to the GLorious Revolution (in England) in 1688, and the result of this was that William and Mary were brought to the throne. Another result of this was that the authority and power of Parliament grew considerably. Everybody now knew that Parliament was the big dog. Everybody now knew that Parliament was the king-maker, the final authority in all things English.
Everybody except the Americans, who were on the other side of the ocean, and who continued to conduct their affairs as they always had, in accordance with English law. When the encroachments crossed the ocean, the colonists protested vigorously, and spent a lot of energy trying to preserve their legal arrangement with the crown. As far as they were concerned, Parliament had no more power to tax them than the legislature of Nebraska today as the power to tax a resident of Idaho. It would illegal for a resident of Idaho to cooperate with such a subversion of constitutional law. It would be disobeying the established authority (which is the Constitution is supposed to be, correct?).
So what we are celebrating is a principled stand, taken against overwhelming odds. This principled stand was fully consistent with the requirements that Scripture placed on them as Christian men. They fought to preserve the liberties they had a Englishmen, and the when the smoke had cleared, they had those same liberties, but now as Americans.
As we set off our fireworkds tonight, and as we watch more spectacular displays put on, I would encourage all believing Christians who are Americans (as well as all believers who are friends of America) to keep the following prayer requests in mind.
1. That Americans would be appropriately grateful for the stupefying wealth that surrounds us on every hand. Wealth is a blessing in Scripture, but it is also a snare and a temptation. We should be grateful for our wealth, and we should be equally grateful for the system of (relatively) free markets that have created this wealth. The Gross Domestic Product of major American cities is larger than that of most countries around the world (e.g. Chicago v. Pakistan). Our economic system is a colossus, but what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?
2. That Americans would somehow learn to resist the temptations that always comes with nation-building, empire-gaining, and secular do-goodism around the globe.
3. That the American church would get its house in order, and take appropriate advantage of the resources we currently have. Never have so many millions of born again Christians had so much money, and so little wisdom.
4. That Americans would regain a sense of history.