This is the first annual 4th of July post at Churchlandia. I use the word “annual” because there is no other date on the calendar which more potently differentiates the Anabaptist understanding of church and state from the mainstream of American evangelicalism and as such, it is fitting that this difference be noted each time the 4th of July arrives.
I do not celebrate the 4th of July the same way that most Americans do. I do spend time thanking God for the blessings I have because I was born in this time and in this nation. I never have to worry about whether I will have clean water or if a war lord is going to decimate my city. For these things and many more I truly am grateful to God. I recognize that it is only by God’s grace that I have any of these blessings. In that way I celebrate being an American.
I do not celebrate the 4th of July as a glorious day in which good conquered evil. The unthinkable act of Christians killing other Christians on either side of the revolutionary war was something that should have been condemned by the church. The only way to accept such a violent choice is by first deciding that one’s identity is primarily nationalistic and only secondarily Christian.
From a Christian perspective there is no legitimate reason to stand in an armed rebellion against one’s nation. Looking back at the early church we see that it was not merely taxed to extremes or denied a voice in government decisions. Life for those Christians was a bit more turbulent. Fear of the Roman government was a daily reality and the desire for an armed rebellion was common place. Yet Paul, a Christian who was arrested several times and eventually martyred for his faith, wrote a letter to the Christians of Rome exhorting them to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Even under such dramatic persecution Paul makes it clear that as ambassadors to the kingdom of God we are not to rebel in the manner of the kingdoms of this world.
I do not celebrate the 4th of July as a representation of life and liberty. I do not believe that true life and liberty are inalienable rights. For many people in this nation, life and liberty are far from them. They are trapped by their sin and their continued service to the powers and principalities of this world. It is a vicious prison that often mimics freedom while sucking them in deeper. For those people, life and liberty are most certainly alienable.
I do not celebrate the 4th of July as a symbolic bastion of the pursuit of happiness. I am in a constant struggle with a part of me that is always pursuing happiness. This side of me believes that my happiness is paramount and all other persons are merely tools in achieving that goal. This is the default nature of our world. It is the default nature of our nations. I am overcome with gratitude when I remember that Jesus was not focused on the pursuit of happiness. His goal was the kingdom of God and this pursuit did not lead to happiness; it led to death by torture. The pursuit of the kingdom is not remotely synonymous with the pursuit of happiness. I am first and foremost a citizen of the kingdom of God and I am desperate to make the pursuit of that kingdom my deepest goal.
On the 4th of July I am reminded that I am merely a resident alien in this country. I am part of a people who have set up camp in the USA, seeking to show others that another world is possible and is in fact already among them. Our pride and celebration is not found in the overcoming of other nations but in the conquering power of our king who was murdered by his nation and then raised by God because of his faithfulness. That is our true independence day.
 Romans 13:1-2