The paradox of July 4

For Americans celebrating the Fourth of July is the most natural thing in the world. As I write, neighbors are gathering in the sweltering summer sun and spending time toghter. Our street is lined with the stars and stripes. There was a parade and fireworks last night; there’ll be more tonight.

There’s much to love about this civil holiday. But it’s just that: a civil holiday. As Christians, we have to place some limits on how and why we celebrate the fourth.

When I was a child, I fondly remember being invited to participate in a cookout at a Naval base near where we lived, sponsored by a contingent of Americans who was stationed there.

Root beer.

Hot dogs.

Baked beans with molasses.

My first experience of all of these staples of American cuisine came through the generosity of these servicemembers.

I knew what the Fourth of July observed since my Mom is American. And though I carried the passport, I had never lived in the United States.

I’d visited a time or two. I knew some trivia.

My mom had an American accent, but I didn’t think of myself as American except in some academic way.

I was British and proudly so.

My experience of church was always, at an early age especially, one that was international in context. I’ve had the good fortune to live in a variety of places in a variety of countries. And in each of those places there has been a community of Christians who I’ve come to call my family.

I’ve realized that one of the most important aspects of our Christian identity is that it is trans-national in nature.

A Christian is one who can walk into a house of worship around the world and feel a kinship and solidarity that arises in spite of language and culture barriers.

Celebrations of civil events like July 4 tend to do damage to this transnational identity. I like these words from Jonathan Leeman:

“We want Christian Brits and Venezuelans showing up that Sunday and discovering they are us. And we don’t want to tempt their non-Christian counterparts to believe they must become Americans to be Christians.

And, perhaps most crucially of all, we don’t want non-Christian Americans to believe they are us simply because they love the flag. No, they must love the cross, and we love them most by pointing not to the flag, but to the cross.”

As I said this morning when I led worship: there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the fourth. It’s important, however, that our gospel not become a gospel of America first, but that we humbly try our best to retain the gospel entrusted to us: one that comes from another country altogether.

As we read the Bible, moreoever, we must strive to see our nation through the lens of the Scripture rather than seeing the Scripture through the lens of America./

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