Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Status of Religion in the U.S. Part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier post. See Part 1 for the historical context of this post. This Part 2 is mainly for Christians (hence the New Testament references) but the principles really apply to adherents of all religions as well.

VI. Our Role as People of Faith

With that historical background, how then should we, as people of faith, deal with a culture that is becoming more and more secular? How do we deal with revisionist history that denies our Judeo-Christian heritage? What do we do in a society where a tiny minority who are “offended” by any kind of perceived public religious expression must be accommodated? I think the Book of Acts gives us some guidance. In Acts, those early believers had significant challenges:
-faced a pagan society that was decadent and often hostile,
-went against the official state religion of Rome, and
-had to deal with hostility from their Jewish brethren.

What did those early disciples do? As we see in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, those early believers persevered in the face of significant opposition.

●They prayed to God, and we read about their powerful prayers in Acts 4:31:
When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. NRSV

●They took care of one another, and we read about their generosity in Acts 4:34-35:
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. NRSV

●They boldly proclaimed the Gospel, at the risk of death or imprisonment, as we read Peter’s proclamation to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:12:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” NRSV

●They stood up to the religious leaders because they answered to a higher authority, as we read Peter and John saying in Acts 4:19-20:
“Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” NRSV

I believe those early followers of Christ understood the fact that the church is a society within a society, a nation within a nation, and a people within a people. Our true citizenship is in heaven, as we are told in Philippians 3:20:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. NRSV

Of course we are to be loyal citizens of our nation, doing our duty by voting, participating in the community, and paying our fair share of taxes. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:21:
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” NRSV

Being a good citizen is also being a good witness for our faith. But our ultimate loyalty must be to God and the building of his kingdom.

VII. Conclusion

So to summarize, the United States has been blessed by God in many different ways:
●In our founding principles, which were radical for that day;
●In our form of government, which has worked remarkably well;
●In our preservation despite severe challenges throughout our history; and
●In our protection from things that could have split us or weakened us.

But, I believe we have been blessed by God for a reason: so we can fulfill the purposes God has for us as a country. That’s why “God shed his grace on thee” as “America the Beautiful” says. Since our true citizenship is in heaven, how do we balance being good American citizens with loyalty to Christ’s kingdom? We do that by living as the Bible tells us to live, which the Apostle Peter summarized very well in 1 Peter 2:16-17:
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as servants of God. Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family, respect God, honor the king. NCV

We also need to stand up, stand up for Jesus, because the nation is moving away from its Judeo-Christian roots. I believe that’s one of the reasons we have so many problems: crime, drugs, unethical behavior, violence, bullying, rage, prejudice, etc. We can’t force anybody to convert – nor should we – but we can tell others about Christ and be good examples of what it is to be a follower of Christ.

We should also resist efforts to further limit religious expression so that our rights don’t become further eroded. And of course we can teach our children what we’ve been discussing this morning so they will know the truth – they won’t hear it anywhere else.

So as people of faith and American citizens, let’s remember to pray for our country, especially:

●for Revival: that there will be a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, like what happened in the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries;

●for Receptivity: that the church especially will be receptive to the moving of the Holy Spirit and be obedient to God’s direction; and

●for Repentance: that we as a nation will see the error of our ways, and stand on what God promised in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” NIV

No comments: