“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
This is the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, the document signed by those fifty-six brave and bold men on July 4th, 1776, which gave birth to our nation, the United States of America.
This is the beginning of the role of religion in the life of these United States.”…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.” Here we have a religious statement, an acknowledgement that there is a Supreme Being, our Creator, who has woven into His creation certain laws by which His creatures are to be governed.
In the very next paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, we find another religious statement: “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.”
Yes, in the very document that founded our nation, we find religious statements.
We rightly give thanks to our God for this great heritage with which He has blessed us. And yet, we rightly pray to God today, for our entire nation, the petition found in our Collect for the week of July 4th : “Increase in us true religion.”
The fact that we are a religious nation does not mean that the one true religion is embraced by all citizens of this nation. Indeed, freedom of religion in our nation means that everyone is free to practice whatever religion he or she chooses to follow--and is even free to choose no religion at all if that is even possible. The government cannot establish any particular religion, show a preference to any particular religion, or interfere in any way with any citizen’s exercise of his or her religion.
And so comes our prayer for our fellow citizens, as well as for ourselves: Increase in us true religion.
There is only one true religion. While our government cannot speak this way, the Church can and in fact, must. We Christians must speak this way. The One True God has revealed The Truth to us in His True Word by His Spirit of Truth. True love for God compels us to follow His command to speak the truth in love to all. True love for our fellow man compels us to tell him about the one and only Way to eternal salvation from sin and death, and that is through Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
When people think of religion they often first think of ritual or laws and rules. There is more to true religion than the Ten Commandments: to laws. There is the truth that we do not keep the commandments as we ought. The Ten Commandments are good to be sure, but our fallen human nature prevents us from keeping them perfectly even if we had the desire to keep them--and we truly have neither the desire nor the capability to keep them. To make our keeping of the commandments the way of true religion is the pathway to Hell.
God sets the commandments before us for an additional purpose. The commandments are there to truly govern and guide our deeds and our words and our desires and our thoughts; they truly are the laws that we are to follow in our dealings with our neighbors in this nation and throughout the world. But, again, this truth is not the whole truth. God has more truth to reveal to us.
There is another Word of Truth from God, the comforting Word of Truth about His mercy. The Lord of All Power and Might who created us is also powerful and mighty to save His creatures. He has sent His Only Son, Christ Jesus, to free us from the tyranny of sin, death, and hell. The Son of God became a creature like us, to walk for us, the way of true obedience to the Ten Commandments, fulfilling for all who believe in Him--and in Him alone--as the Liberator from our obligation to the commandments . Christ took upon Himself all of our sin and all of our guilt--truly all of it--and died for it, so that His death would put sin and guilt to death for all who trust in Him--and Him alone--as the world’s Savior from sin. And then Jesus rose the dead to make the true Declaration of Independence to us: that all who believe in Him--and in Him alone--have been released from the shackles of our sin, have been freed from the rule of Satan, and have been made a subject of God’s kingdom of grace--eternally!
The One True God comes to increase in you true religion--the one true religion--which is nothing other than faith in Him as the One and Only God--our Creator, our True Savior.
And so we pray this month:
Lord of all power and might, who art the Author and Giver of all good things, graft in our hearts the love of Thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end, Amen.
Have a blessed celebration of our freedom,