The Declaration of Independence tells the world, very clearly, what our Founding Fathers understood to be the foundational reasons for this country’s separation from England:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We take the idea of independence very seriously, and we celebrate it not only on the Fourth of July but throughout our daily lives. It is these individual unalienable rights that drive our culture – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness – and nobody dare even suggest that our independence might have any limits.
This is abundantly clear – even painfully and embarrassingly clear – in the in-your-face world of social media, where grammar, manners, and decency are slaughtered in the name of free speech. It is evident among the ever-changing standards of right vs. wrong, where “right” is a matter of “what I believe” or “what I want” and not some out-dated concept of objective truth or religious faith.
And this is true in the world and in the church. Certainly we recognize it in the world, where people insist that they can say and do whatever they please. However, it’s really not much different within the church. Sure, we have the Bible, and we expect people to read it and live by it – until it becomes uncomfortable or unpopular. We pick and choose the texts we like and wield the Bible like a club against those who disagree with us (and maybe with God, if we’re lucky). However, when it comes to our own preferences, traditions, and sins, we get pretty independent pretty quickly.
Yet, Paul was very clear when he wrote to the church in Corinth, a church that struggled with doing things God’s way versus their own. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20,
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
Yes, the immediate context of the statement is in regard to sexual immorality, which was rampant in the culture and church then, just as it is today. However, this principle is at the heart of our identity as Christians: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”
Obviously, that doesn’t sit well among modern American Christians who revel in their independence. The language alone of such a statement flies in the face of our hard-won freedom; it’s the language of slavery. Paul explained this identity to the church in Romans 6:22: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”
It’s no wonder, then, that so many struggle with their American freedom within God’s church. It’s no wonder, when it comes to lines drawn between our expectations of freedom and God’s expectations for holiness, that American independence wins out over Christian faith. It’s no wonder, then, that the average American church is more American than church. And yet we wonder why the church is so easily marginalized in our country.
It’s because it is so easily dismissed among Christians. When biblical teaching becomes secondary to American history, when worshiping God can be shoved aside for patriotic observances, the church looks no different from the world. Add to that the expectation of personal holiness at the cost of personal freedom, and the church becomes completely countercultural. This is what separated the church from Jewish culture, from Roman culture, and it’s what drew many out of their culture and into the church. Are we really so independent that we’re willing to lose our faith and the church to the culture around us?