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Wednesday Word: A Theology for American Patriots, Pt. 3

June 30, 2021 | Dr. Jay T. Smith


“Of Thee I Sing”: A Theology for American Patriots

The forefathers of American Christians suffered for holding a passionate faith. They were followers of Jesus, adherents of Scripture, deeply involved in their faith communities, and grateful to be in the New World. During the Revolutionary War (1775-1883),1 as with contemporary events, the Christians in the colonies were torn between their political passion and their faithfulness to the teachings of Christ. This outline describes the “musts” for any committed follower of Jesus.

A High Christology

For the Christian, God is the source of all truth and His only begotten Son, Jesus of Nazareth—the Christ, is the one who defines that truth. To refer to the Scriptures as truth means we understand that they are a derivative truth— a truth that derives its veracity from the power of the Holy Spirit and its witness to Jesus. To disconnect Scripture from Jesus and His message is to place Scripture squarely in the frail hands of human interpreters. Scripture, as the Word of God, firmly places its final authority in Jesus, who is the Word and Voice of God. If the church begins to apply Scripture outside of the parameters of Jesus’s person and message, the message becomes either irrelevant or, worse, heresy.

Our faith then demands a “high Christology.” Jesus is the informer of our reality, our words, and our behaviors. This is the message of the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, and John. Jesus is the defining center. No one and no thing stands in front of Jesus, takes priority over Jesus, or demands greater loyalty than the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Lord, the Messiah. Presidents will come and go, but Jesus is eternal. The earliest Christians would gladly surrender their lives rather than sacrifice to the emperor. Jesus comes first.

A Pragmatic Trinitarianism

Christians are Trinitarians. We worship the Father in the Son, through the Holy Spirit. The three are one. We know the three in Jesus. We experience the three in the Holy Spirit. We come only to the Father in the fullness of time through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and the redemptive sanctification of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of the three – the Godhead – within our person. It is the person of God that is our inner witness to the truth of God, God’s message, and God’s mission to the world.

An “In-Spirited”, Ethical Life

The presence of God in the life of the Christian is marked first and foremost by the work of the Holy Spirit in, and through, us. First, the Spirit is transforming each believer into the image of Christ. This process is called sanctification. As Christians, we are made “holy” in Christ, but the Holy Spirit is also constantly working on our character to produce a “conditional” holiness. The Spirit is constantly at work producing “the fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) in order that our Christlikeness will be both pleasing to God and a witness to our world.

As Christians, the inner witness and workings of the Spirit impel us to “Christlikeness” with all of its implications: love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy, and love one another. There is no room for hatred, threats, violence, or killing in the life of the believer. None. Zero. When those feelings or emotions rise within us, we must always back away and allow the peace of Christ, in the witness of the Spirit, to restore us. If we allow angry words or violent behavior to take precedence in our lives, if we allow hatred of our neighbor for differently held beliefs, or if we allow secular politics to determine our moods and behaviors, then Christ has no part of us. We have allowed the Enemy—Satan, the Devil, Old Slewfoot—to blind us to the truth and displace Christ as the ruler of our lives. When we begin picking verses out of the Bible to ground non-Christlike behaviors, when we become the judge of our neighbor—as opposed to being an advocate in Christ for our neighbor, when we publicly endorse sinful life and seek to politically disenfranchise the people who Christ told us to serve and love, then Christ has no part in us. Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” for the Christian, or nothing. There is no halfway with God.

A Simple Faith; A Simple Biblicism

The Christian life should be much simpler than we make it. We worship the living God as Father, Son, and Spirit. At the same time, we follow Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the historic proof of the Father in heaven, and the ideal to which we aspire. The Holy Spirit is the love of God made personal. The Spirit is the presence of the Creator-Father and Son-Redeemer. Through individual and communal prayer, the actions of love, the life of worship, and the failures of the flesh, we are constantly being informed – inwardly formed – by the Spirit.

The Bible, as the historic record of YHWH’s activity in the world, is one of the Spirit’s tools in this endeavor. Additionally, as the human record of GOD’S CREATIVE WORD— the WORD as it is in Jesus—the Bible derives its status as the Word of God. It is the Word in that it is the inscribed witness to THE WORD. If we read the Scriptures, expecting the Spirit to use it in our lives, then it becomes THE WORD for us. However, to attempt to superimpose our own human notions upon Scripture is dangerous and ultimately abusive. When we read Scripture with 21st century eyes—with our own cultural presuppositions—we bring something very foreign to this three-millennia-old text. We need to put on our biblical interpretation glasses, attempting to understand the history and context behind the text, before we inappropriately attempt to force it to say what we want it to say. The Bible is powerful; we must read it with the wisdom of the Spirit.

Living Politics of The Kingdom

Jesus defined Israel for Israel. He redefined the Torah and the Prophets, and He reframed their histories. We need not return to the Old Testament to look for ethical and political advice; rather we must look towards the New Testament. The early church—the church during the time of Peter and Paul— called itself, “The Way.” The church was not simply a building where religious activities took place, but a people who followed Jesus and His “way” of being. It involved a life of agape—a divine way of living in love—with no hate, anger, or judgement. It is a way of walking in and with the truth. It is a way of living in relationship to creation and our fellow human beings that is redemptive and life-giving. It is a way of living where the Holy Spirit is constantly transforming each of us so that we model the character of Christ and the fruit of Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is a life lived in truth. We do not live the lie; we live the TRUTH as it is in Jesus. In a world filled with greed, anger, lust, hatred, and constant lying, the Christian presents an alternative life and way of seeing the world.

Serving the Nation

We are fortunate to be citizens in a nation that ensures the freedom of its citizens in a “Bill of Rights.” Here are the first few, in the founders’ language:

  1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  2. A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
  3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

The amendments continue on past the bill of rights (the first ten amendments) to include twenty-seven amendments in all, with the 13th amendment being the most famous:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

You will notice that our government protects the freedom to worship as its citizens choose along with the freedoms of speech and of the press, as well as the rights for people to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for grievances. It relates the “right to bear arms” with the need for a well-regulated militia in order to secure a free state. As Christians, we appreciate the rights extended to us by our government, both for the sake of a free citizenry, and for government by the people, through their popularly elected representatives. This system of government is worth serving, protecting, correcting, and cherishing. No other nation as large as the United States has such a privilege.

Christians have a greater, previous loyalty however, and that is to God-in-Jesus. That loyalty to Jesus drives our willingness and the energy to serve our nation. However, it also drives us to stand up and protest when our government makes decisions that are injurious to the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the sick, and those that are not valued as human beings—the people for which Jesus cared. We care and defend the unborn, but so does God—so much so, that when a human being makes the egregious decision to terminate an unborn child’s life, God receives that child immediately into His arms. Our ministry, then, is an opportunity to minister to and serve the women who, for one reason or another, felt like they had to make that choice. We don’t judge them, or we will be judged for our sin. We give love, mercy, and compassion to help those women know and experience God’s love. We serve our nation—and all the men, women, and children of the United States and those who come to us for help. We serve the best way we can.

Martyrdom: Witnessing to the Nation

Christians are not “name-callers” and don’t pull firearms on our neighbors or storm the United States capitol building angrily desecrating the symbols of our Republic and threatening our elected officials with death. Christians don’t violently accost others with threatening actions and language. This is not the way of Christ, not the way of His church, and not the way of God’s people clearly portrayed in the New Testament. The church, standing up for Jesus over and above the demands of government, became witnesses to the love of God, up to and including their deaths. In their refusal to worship the governments of their day, they gave their lives in the arena, sacrificed to beasts; they suffered crucifixion, were burned alive, or were executed by the sword. Mind you, they were not trying to overthrow their nation; they were trying to follow Jesus. In all four gospels, a disciple of Jesus—identified as Peter in John’s Gospel—draws a sword and cuts off an ear of the high priest’s servant. In Matthew, Jesus responds: “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Violence – verbal or physical – is not part of who or what a Christian is or does.

Christians witness to our nation and its government through our faith in Jesus, hope for the future, and love today for our fellow human beings and God’s creation. In a culture of lies, manipulation, greed, violence, and hopelessness, Christians stand as a countercultural witness, standing in and administering God’s mercy, goodness, grace, and love to a culture that needs this medicine as a thirsty person needs a drink of water. This is the Christian witness our nation and our world needs.

In conclusion, I would like to mention Samuel Francis Smith’s “America.”

Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to “America” in 1831 while a student at the Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. The use of the same melody as the British royal anthem makes this English symbol of monarchy a statement about American democracy. The first publication of “America” was in 1832. Here are the original lyrics:

My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King!

In 1843, A. G. Duncan wrote a version of the tune with “abolitionist” lyrics. We have no record of who A. G. Duncan was or if he or she contributed more to the abolitionist movement as a whole. We do know that this person was a white abolitionist from the north, possibly related to Rev. James Duncan, a noted abolitionist from Vevay, Ind, or possibly a musician from Hingham, Mass. Here are the abolitionist lyrics:

My country, ’tis of thee,
Stronghold of slavery, of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside thy deeds shall ring.

My native country, thee,
Where all men are born free, if white’s their skin;
I love thy hills and dales,
Thy mounts and pleasant vales;
But hate thy negro sales, as foulest sin.

Let wailing swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees the black man’s wrong;
Let every tongue awake;
Let bond and free partake;
Let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.

Our father’s God! to thee,
Author of Liberty, to thee we sing;
Soon may our land be bright,
With holy freedom’s right,
Protect us by thy might, Great God, our King.

It comes, the joyful day,
When tyranny’s proud sway, stern as the grave,
Shall to the ground be hurl’d,
And freedom’s flag, unfurl’d,
Shall wave throughout the world, O’er every slave.

Trump of glad jubilee!
Echo o’er land and sea, freedom for all.
Let the glad tidings fly,
And every tribe reply,
“Glory to God on high”, at Slavery’s fall!

The way of the Christian Patriot is a much harder path to walk than that of a disaffected citizen—a citizen being blown about by conflicting reports of what is truth and what is a lie, a citizen who believes that God calls believers to revolution and violence, or a citizen who believes in unvalidated conspiracy theories. These good citizens have been led to believe that other good citizens are their enemies, that other good citizens don’t have valid opinions, and that other good citizens want to steal their liberties. None of this makes sense whatsoever, especially to the Christian Patriot. The Christian Patriot is the one who allows his or her faith in God, led by Jesus in the power of the Spirit, to shape their life and thought. These Christian Patriots know that many good citizens—American Patriots—have been shackled to the lie by the father of lies. Many Christians, as well, have moved away from the truth they know in Jesus, in Scripture, to embrace a false gospel of government and its own false prophets. “They have exchanged the truth for a lie,” said Paul in his letter to the Roman church, and will suffer the ultimate penalty for their rejection of Jesus and His Kingdom.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Read part 1 “Introduction: An American Patriot Theology—Part 1”. Read part 2 “An American Patriot Theology—Part 2”.

1 The Revolutionary War was an insurrection by American Patriots in the 13 colonies to British rule, resulting in American independence.

Dr. Jay T. Smith

President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

Dr. Jay Smith leads the Yellowstone Theological Institute as its president. Dr. Smith has served as minister of youth, music and as senior […]

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