Holidays are heritage-handles to help us carry memories, values, ideals and traditions home to our hearts and minds. Our children need these handles.
Religious holidays nourish my faith in God and focus my heart on where my ultimate hope lies—namely, in Jesus Christ and His birth, life, death and resurrection. God alone, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, deserves all my worship.
I celebrate national holidays on an entirely different level, in order to inspire and cultivate gratitude. Worship has nothing to do with it.
Gratitude is a Christian virtue fitting for any day of the year. Christians find great peace and unity in knowing that our ultimate hope rests far beyond the realm of politics and nations. But we can still be deeply grateful for persons and things that may not offer ultimate hope. I bring gratitude, not worship, to my celebration of Independence Day. And I bring it in earnest.
America was founded on the belief that God is the source of liberty. John Dickinson, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, and a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, made this clear:
Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declarations of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchment or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth. ~ John Dickinson (1732–1808)
Our Founders also saw God as the source of our rights. The Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, appealed to God with such foundational phrases as “endowed by their Creator”, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”, “the Supreme Judge of the world” and “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” And what did the Creator endow? He endowed “certain unalienable Rights” like “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Nevertheless, the 4th of July, our national birthday, is no more a religious holiday than my own birthday. Do I owe my very existence to God? Yes. However, there is nothing about me that should command your worship. There is nothing about America that commands it either. God alone deserves our worship.
I have loved my country with a love that never minimized my love for people in other lands. It’s a deep gratitude (never idolatry) for an incredible heritage. I for one never wanted my country “fundamentally transformed” by a messianic politician and his devoted followers. Nevertheless, this has happened. And since America has never been an object of worship for me, its loss simply transports more of my focus on my love for Jesus’ church. As a patriotic citizen, I never believed America would outlive the church. My faith always ran deeper than my patriotism, so my trust in God currently overrides my disappointment in America.
At a prayer breakfast address in Dallas, Texas, August 23, 1984, Ronald Reagan said, “America needs God more than God needs America.” Those of us who worship God realize that America’s health and future depends on us knowing Who to worship and who (and what) not to worship, and that includes The Declaration of Independence and its signers. If we turn our worship away from God toward powerful pieces of paper (money, contracts, diplomas, deeds or documents) or swaths of land, or promising politicians (then and now) or beautiful statues carrying torches or anything except God, then we are initiating the demise of this great experiment we called America, born on the 4th of July.