A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest, while we are building ideal monuments of renown and bliss here, we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven.
[Letter by Madison to William Bradford [urging him to make sure of his own salvation] November 9, 1772]
I had a most memorable Fourth of July. I spent the weekend river tubing and white water rafting in the mountains of North Carolina. Last evening I watched, from the cool comfort of my living room, the fireworks over Washington, DC and over New York City. I had goose bumps as I heard readings from the Founding Fathers that the Fourth would always be remembered in celebration with fireworks and chiming bells. I wondered what they would have thought of the wondrous new fireworks that we have. (For Stargate fans, did you see the new fireworks that looked like the ascensions)?
Man’s ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. I thanked God that I was born in a country that allowed me to be free to seek and find my Savior. But I whispered an even deeper thanks for the ability of two middle aged women, of no great import, to be able to write about our thoughts on faith. Better yet has been the community of believers that I have met through this endeavor. I am particularly moved by others who do not know us yet would spring to our defense.
I have been following with deep interest a discussion that is ongoing between some of this community on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc. The depth of knowledge and the concern for this country’s laws exhibited by these folks is impressive. I thought I would reprint their comments as part of this post. Then I have something to add to this conversation.
Sun, Jul 04 09:13 am at 09:13 am
I started what I hope to be a tradition this year. Reading the Constitution every 4th of July to my kids.
Sun, Jul 04 05:06 pm at 05:06 pm
Lydia, Please begin with the Declaration of Independence, and then follow up with the Constitution, including the amendments thereto. And perhaps share that the religion clauses in the first amendment were placed there, at least in part, at the instigation of believers, Baptists in fact. It was their believe in soul competency — the freedom to choose to love God — that made them detest government interference in religion.
Sun, Jul 04 09:46 pm at 09:46 pm
Arce, I quite agree. (When I say Constitution, I should be more clear that I include the Bill of Rights which I am so glad some held out for) I also tell them there is NO wall of seperation wording in the Constitution so when they hear that proclaimed by so many, they know the reference is, instead, from a letter Jefferson wrote responding to the Danbury Baptists over their concerns about the Anglican church. But I am not aware of any Baptists who participated in the Constitutional Convention. If you know of one, i would be delighted to hear about them.
Sun, Jul 04 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm
Here’s an article about religion and the US Constitution, which makes references to the influence of Baptists on the Bill of Rights: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel06.html
Sun, Jul 04 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm
By the way, what the Baptists and others were concerned about, and what the authors of the 1st amendment instead to address, was the establishment of a national religion. They felt that such matters should be left to the States, and each State could determine whether it would have any specific religion (by which they meant Protestant denomination) as their official State religion. It wasn’t until much later that the religion clause of the 1st amendment was applied to State and local governments also. Though I think it is best that no level of government establish or promote a specific religion, the U.S. Constitution is silent on that matter, and the Framers would likely be appalled that anyone would take what was intended to apply to the federal government and enforce it as applicable to the States.
Mon, Jul 05 10:27 am at 10:27 am
But later, the Congress and the States adopted the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the Framers of those amendments apparently wanted the protections of the Constitution, including the previously adopted amendments, to extend the residents of the states as against those State governments. Hence, the bar on States having established religions or religious preferences. The earlier controversies, between disestablishment and anti-disestablishment, are well documented by historians.
Mon, Jul 05 02:43 pm at 02:43 pm
True, Arce. I meant that the original Framers intended to limit the power of the federal government and allow the states independence in anything not specifically adressed in the constitution. The proper extent of the federal government’s power in relation to that of the states was one of the primary areas of conflict that led to the Civil War. After the Civil War, the power and extent of the federal government grew considerably.
Mon, Jul 05 02:44 pm at 02:44 pm
And grew considerably beyond that intended by the original US Constitution’s framers.
Junkster, ARCE, and Lydia met, as far as a know, in the blogosphere. Due to various things they have said, I know they come from different parts of the country. Yet they exhibit a love for this country through their understanding of the law, the history and the faith. They all wrestle with the subject of the role of faith and the part that it plays in the political system in America. Several things they have said made me realize that I have much, much more to learn about the role Baptists and other people of faith played in the founding of the laws of this country.
I have a question for some of our readers. Do you ever have conversations like this with your friends and family? Have you, like Lydia, ever read the Constitution to your children, starting with the Bill of Rights as ARCE suggested? Even better, have you ever read them through yourself? Like Junkster, do you know how your particular denomination affected the founding of the laws of our country? How much do you know about the issue of soul competency that ARCE raised? Do you even care?
I have provided both some definitions along with some excellent links if you are unfamiliar with some of the history, documents or terms that are used in their discussion.
1. From the SBC we find the definition of soul competency.
"We affirm soul competency, the accountability of each person before God. Your family cannot save you. Neither can your church. It comes down to you and God. Authorities can't force belief or unbelief. They shouldn't try.
Against this backdrop of religious freedom, it's important for us Baptists to set forth our convictions. By stating them in a forthright manner, we provide nonbelievers with a clear choice."
Note how this is predicated on the importance of religious freedom. Our country allows for the freedom of each citizen to make his or her case for the gospel to nonbelievers.
2. Furthermore, here is a link to an informative article on Baptist patriots involved in the founding of our country.
3. Here is a link to the Bill of Rights which is reprinted on Wikipedia along with the amendments.
4. Finally, here is a link to the Constitution in its original text.
It takes only a few minutes to read both the Constitution and the Bill or Rights. If you have never done so, you will be humbled by the grand vision of these documents.
Out of this discussion arises a question. What is American and what is Christian? In other words, do we sometimes confuse the two? I have had the privilege of a close friendship with a Christian couple from Norway and Sweden. I travelled to Scandinavia and spent time with their families. Through I our discussions I learned much about the dangers inherent in a state recognized and supported church.
On a slightly different note, I am currently reading Michael Spencer's book, Mere Churchianity. In this book, he makes the observes that some citizens make the mistake of confusing their Americanism with their Christian faith.
In the next two posts I will elaborate on both the problems inherent in a state run church as well as the confusion between what constitutes the faith and what comprises secular cultural mores.
Today, I want to leave you with one of the most moving Pledges of Allegiances ever made. Red Skelton remembers what he was taught by a teacher. Grab a handkerchief and the hand of a loved one and listen to this 4 minute pledge.
And, May God bless America.