A Christ-less Creed
It has been said that America is a creedal nation, a people based not on ethnicity but on a shared idea, on a set of beliefs held in common. There is much truth to this description. The American founding set forth a particular view of man and invited men from all over the world to leave their native lands and come join in the American project. Indeed, even the colonists who were present before the founding had to a large extent self-selected to be part of a great experiment, or else were the children of those who had. America is perhaps history’s most successful “intentional community.”
Since God has intended to end the enmity of man against man, and unite all in love for neighbor, perhaps America is a foreshadowing of God’s ultimate will for mankind.
On the other hand, since God has chosen to gather men of every tribe, nation and tongue together under Christ, how will he view an attempt to bring them together under some other umbrella? What if in place of Christ we put Babel? Or the European Union? Or American exceptionalism? How then will God deal with us, when we set out to gather the earth under a banner other than that of his son?
As much as we, who love Christ and America simultaneously, would urge America to find her identity in Christ, we must be honest enough say that, to date, she has done no such thing. The American creed is not the Christian creed, no matter how many Christians were involved in the founding. It is true that many Christians, (and perhaps better Christians than we are,) saw a harmony between Christ and the America ideals, but the two are not identical. Even if we supposed that the America idea was entirely a subset of the truths declared by the Christian faith, what is the destiny of a Christianity that leaves out Christ?
Seek Perfection Elsewhere
Even as he was writing scripture, the apostle Paul considered himself to have achieved perfection in only one aspect of the Christian life: namely, that he constantly put aside the past, striving every day to walk worthy of the calling of Christ. In other words, he continued to be less than equal to the wonder that is Christ Jesus, but he had pretty well internalized the right response to his own shortcomings in light of the lord’s perfection.
This means that contemporaries of Paul could not look to his life a perfectly faithful representation of the Christian life. On the whole, he was a good example, but if considered in detail, he would be found wanting. Now much of this detail is not available for our inspection after these many centuries. We have only what was recorded in scripture. And as scripture records, in many ways Paul was an example worthy of emulation. But he was not the perfect image of Christ, as Christ was the perfect image of God.
Nor was the apostle Peter, who was guilty of no small error when he separated from the gentile converts at Antioch. To imitate him in that mistake would be to deny the unity of the body of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ in justifying sinners. Kind of a big deal. It goes right to the core of the gospel.
Since even such eminent Christians are only imperfect examples, we would be very foolish to expect true perfection to be found in any man or organization. No man is perfect. No church is perfect. And similarly, no nation is perfect.
This is an important practical consideration because the finite, mortal human soul longs for perfection. Give us a leader to follow. Give us a standard that is true. Give us something safe, something trustworthy. We need it. We do not have it within ourselves so we must look for it elsewhere. But be careful where you look, because there is only one true Christ. And only he has the words of life.
Tares and Wheat
As God works out his plan in history, the tares and wheat grow together. The wheat grows to be harvested and the tares to be burned, but both grow together in the same field. The human eye may not discern the difference. When it comes to America’s nature and destiny, there are both tares and wheat, and both are rightly called America. That part of her nature which is wheat is the gift of God and stands by faith in Christ. The tares are those parts of her traditions and even her principles which are sinful, not worthy of Christ.
Sinners must confess their sins. They must own them. It is no good blaming others or pretending they themselves are innocent. That would be yet another sin, and perhaps the gravest. It is a sin that is all too common in American life. It is because our eyes are on the earth. We’re too busy trying to draw lines and say these people are right and those people are wrong. The truth is, before heaven we are all wrong. Sinners who seek to be righteous must first confess that they are not righteous. Only then have we given heaven its due.
The need to confess sin is a truth that is highly relevant to American politics. The nation which does not confess its sins will be punished by heaven. The nation which makes itself the standard of righteousness will be destroyed. What good is it to defeat a political opponent, only to feel a tap on the shoulder, then turn around and get leveled by the hammer of God?
So then what are we to make of a nation birthed by people steeped in scripture; people who had a multi-century tradition of following Christ?
In so far as they embodied scripture and followed Christ, good. But we know even before we inspect their work that there will be bad mixed with the good, just as there was in the lives of the apostles of Christ. We cannot unreservedly embrace the founding generation. Our unreserved admiration is for Christ alone.
Every work of man contains in itself the seeds of its own demise, either in containing that which ought to be left out, or in leaving out that which is crucial. But more often both. And the conclusion of the matter is this: what Christ does not save will be lost; what he does not complete will perish.