Independence Day is a great reminder of everything with which the Lord has blessed us in this country. We have the freedom to gather as congregations of Christians in this country, to share freely the Faith that has been handed down to us for the salvation of all people, and the material blessings to easily do that. While that material blessing has caused us multiple problems (e.g., materialism, greed, laziness, a feeling of rights and entitlement), it has also been used widely to provide for the work of the Gospel here and around the world. These are some of the many blessings for which we give thanks to God.
And yet, the very notion of independence has caused us problems as well. Though we celebrate our independence from monarchs who would determine the form and content of our worship, a vacuum of independence will be filled by dependence of one sort or another. In other words, as that important theologian, Bob Dylan, put it, “You gotta serve somebody.” If it’s not a king, then it might be a president. If it’s not a president, then it might be capitalistic or socialistic greed. But whatever it is, it usually ends up as service to the Almighty “I”. I have rights (very often severed from responsibilities); I have choices (very often severed from consequences); I’ll have things my way, and you can’t tell me otherwise. And when political and individual independence begins to merge with religious independence, and blur the lines between the two, very bad things can happen.
For example, when Christians desire independence from the authority of God’s Law, it usually results in independence from God’s Gospel as well, and then our Faith begins to look little different from the dominant American spirituality of “live and let live” with its complete redefinition of Christian love. Or, Christians declare independence from the Scriptures, directly and indirectly. Even among us, who claim a very high place for the Scriptures, sometimes people will hear what the Scriptures say, believe that the Scriptures say something relevant, and show by their actions that they simply don’t care. Even when Scriptural arguments are presented, some say, “That all makes sense; I just don’t agree.”
Independence in the Church is not a good thing, understood, as it generally is, to be independence from anything higher than my own self-willed choices and decisions. This results in a lack of respect for others, perhaps especially before the altar at the Lord’s Supper, where we confess and show most clearly that we are one Body, dependent upon Christ our Head and each other, the other members of Christ.
So in this month when we celebrate Independence Day for the United States, let us also celebrate the fact that we are completely dependent upon God and His mercy in Jesus Christ for everything we are and everything we have.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”
Quote for the Month
“God has given an independent will neither to you nor to anybody else, for self-will comes from the devil and Adam. These two turned their will, received from God, into a will of their own; for a free will is one which has no desires of its own but constantly looks to the will of God. In this way it then also succeeds in remaining free, clinging and cleaving to nothing. Now you notice that in this petition [The Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer] God bids us pray against ourselves, thereby teaching us that we have no greater enemy than ourselves. Our will is the greatest power within us. But we must pray against it: O Father, let me not so fall as to do things according to my own will. Break my will. Restrain my will. Let come what may, only let my lot be determined not by my will but only by Thy will; for so it is in heaven, where there is no self-will. Let it be so also on earth. Putting this prayer into practice is very painful to human nature.” (Martin Luther, What Luther Says [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959], 4655)