As we celebrate Independence Day, it is essential to recognize that the Declaration of Independence was not a humanistic achievement. It was not humanity pulling itself up by its bootstraps to achieve the outworking of humanistic philosophy in the civil polity.
The Declaration of Independence was the triumph of a Christian political ethic. It is the result of the gospel’s permeating effect establishing the Reformational principle of self-government under God.
The founding fathers operated on an ostensibly Christian worldview. Many, like Washington, Adams, and Madison, were Christians. Others such as Jefferson and Franklin operated on a borrowed Christian morality. There was no concept of religious or moral pluralism. Atheism was rejected out of hand. Deism had a root but still maintained a Christian morality, despite denying God’s overruling providence.
The American experiment was unique in so far as it was established from the ground up as an attempt at Christian self-government. It borrowed its ideas of delegated, segregated, and vested civil powers from the Hebrew Commonwealth. It championed liberty and freedom because these are the ideals of a Christian framework and worldview where man is self-governed in terms of God’s law. The state or civil authority only comes into the scene once someone has trespassed upon the law.
James Madison clearly articulated this idea when he said:
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”James Madison
This idea of self-government provided the catalyst for the Declaration. When King George abdicated his responsibility to uphold the colonial charters and protect the colonies from the abuses of Parliament, the colonial representatives lawfully and orderly drew up terms of dissolution. As such, the American Declaration of Independence was a document of interposition against a tyrant.
The representative magistrates operating in self-government and submission to the rule of Christ resisted the overreach of the Tyrannical King George. This resistance wholly differs from a revolution (such as the French Revolution) that seeks to uproot and overturn the entire social and political structure. The king had forsaken the responsibility of the royal charter. He had permitted the overreach of Parliament into the affairs of the colonies. The lawful and orderly response of the colonists was for their elected representatives to interpose against the tyranny of the king.
Interposition is what it means for the Christian statemen to act in faithfulness to God. He stands in the gap against those who would abuse or overstep their legitimate authority or government. Government is not a blank slip to be used as the bearer sees fit. Government, in every area of life, is vested and limited. When the one who holds authority fails to act per his office, his authority is forfeit.
The American patriot recognized this. The American farmer, tradesman, and merchant acted in terms of this moral responsibility toward self-government. It has only been with the abandonment of a Christian worldview and the adoption of moral and religious pluralism that Americans have abdicated the once sacred responsibility of self-government under God.
For America to reignite the spark of liberty, we must submit to Christ as King. Not “one nation under God” in some form of patriotic affirmation, but wholeheartedly embracing the doctrines of Christ as genuinely transformative and redeeming, extending from the inward man outward into the entire scope of God’s creation and cosmos. All creation groans, as the result of Adam’s curse, and only by the true light of the gospel in the person of Jesus Christ can all things be enlightened and transformed.
Self-government is only possible by the redeemed man. Therefore let us proclaim the good news of the gospel of the Kingdom; the salvation from death, sin, and lawlessness, and the victory of all those who are in Christ.