Friday, July 3, 2009

7/4- Love of God and Country

(Washington- Prayer at Valley Forge)

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as his heritage!” (Psalm 33:12)
"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

Calvin: “Human beings exist under a twofold government (inner=spiritual- instituted by the church; and outer= moral- instituted by the state)…although this topic seems alien to the spiritual doctrine of faith, it is right to join them, in fact necessity compels me to do so…The civil government has as its appointed end to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church, to adjust our life to the human society, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another and to promote general peace and tranquility.” (IV.20.2)

On July 3, Bill Moyers asked the question on ETV of professor Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, New York, to “channel the good Calvin” who was able to listen to the changes going on in the world. Dr. Jones spoke of a possible “New Reformation” recognizing the economic and spiritual changes going on as Calvin recognized them 500 years ago. Our weak economy can give rise to churches reaching out to the hungry and ministering to those in need. It may be important to note that after the Great Depression and WWII there was a tremendous, quiet revival in our country. My hopes are that this will happen again and that we may once again reform the church, by God’s grace.
On July 4th it is important to remember a few things. It is important to remember the freedom that we have- freedom to worship, freedom to speak, freedom to own property and to give to others. For Calvin, there was no government no power that is not derived from the ultimate power- God. Human government was for the common good (and under God), and so was faith. Laws in Geneva requiring church attendance and education of children combined with laws for public sanitation, family health practice and the founding of new industry. McNeill pointed out that Geneva’s revival under Calvin also included latrines, balcony railing for their houses, better home-heating systems, licensed dentists, new hospitals, their first textile factory, along with public education, and a new college. In contrast to this are the countries without faith- most notably Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union whose lack of faith led to the destruction of even basic human services. Cuba is another example. I remember going to Cuba ten years ago this month. I found the church persecuted (the pastor of First Presbyterian Havana was brought in for questioning for his sermon the day I arrived), oranges were rotting in railway cars while the people were starving for food.
There was a time when many in American thought we were the chosen nation. The early Calvinists (like the Puritans and Pilgrims) were hoping for a nation that would be a city on a hill- a light for the world to see. There are not many who believe that any more. Yet, the people of God can continue to influence our country by the way we live, and also by multiplying the gospel in our country. Much of the freedom we have is there because people seek to follow Him and reject evil. McNeill described Calvinism as fostering ideals of “human freedom, public justice, and representative and responsible government. While many of us exceed Calvin’s tolerance, we lack his consecration to the aid of others and the betterment of society.” We are called to pray for the place where God has placed us, and work for its prosperity. We not only are called to pray, but to live, vote, and care about our nation. Some are called to serve in the military, some are called to run for office. My hopes are that this great nation will come closer to God as Christians really live and share their faith.
There has always been a bit of tension in Calvinism between those who seek to love country over God (and the state becomes too powerful and autocratic), and those who neglect their country out of misguided love of God. To some, any kind of patriotism is a sin. There were some Calvinists who wouldn't say the pledge of allegiance. There are some who refuse to put an American flag in the sanctuary. There are others who want us to sing "God Bless America" every week along with saying the pledge of allegiance. Perhaps a better way is to worship God only, but also recognize that in God's sovereignty He has placed us in our land. We are to pray for it, make it as good as it can be-- also for the glory of God. There is a place for primary love for God and secondary love for country.

Prayer: Thank you for our country Lord. Bless our leaders with wisdom and direction. Draw us back to yourself, Lord, that we might be a blessing to you.

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