3rd Sunday after Pentecost June 30, 2019
1 Timothy 2:1-6
44, 341, 474, 578
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and Christ Jesus, our Savior. Amen.
In recent years the debate has raged: is America a Christian nation or not? On one side are those who insist that America is a Christian nation because many of the principles which governed the founding of our nation were principles taken from the Bible and for the vast majority of our nation’s existence the majority of its population has been made up of Christians. On the other side of the debate are those who say that though it is true that the majority of Americans have been Christian, that is no longer the case and, at any rate, the Constitution keeps a sharp separation between church and state so that the government cannot support or promote a specific religion or even religion itself.
So, who’s right? Well, they say that religion and politics make strange bedfellows and so I must admit that I am in agreement with those who say that America is not a Christian nation, but for far different reasons, the chief of which is that there is no such thing as a Christian nation. There is a Christian Church, which the Bible speaks of as being a holy nation. The Christian Church is governed by the Gospel. The nations of the earth are all governed by law.
Yet, where the Christian Church exists that nation will be blessed by God. To this end, the Apostle Paul gives us some encouragement in our text which 1 Timothy 2:1-6:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
Patriotism they call it—love for one’s country. The word patriot comes from the Latin word meaning father. Since the authority of governments and rulers is, in a sense, authority transferred from parents, and fathers in particular, just as we love our father and mother, so we love our fatherland. Just as we honor our parents, so we honor our nation and those who are appointed to rule it. Just as we pray for our parents, so also we pray for our national and elected leaders.
Most Americans know that there is a difference between the church and the state; unfortunately, most of what they know about that separation is from the perspective of the state. For example, religious freedom is a civil right. The First Amendment of the US Constitution says so. The state is obliged to defend this civil right. However, God gives no right to religious freedom. He does not give anyone the right to worship idols. In fact, He strictly forbids it in His own First Commandment. It is a diabolical and political lie that all religions worship the same God. Still, God has given the rulers of our nation the authority to protect this right that He Himself does not grant in the First Commandment.
Does this mean that we should try to make America into a Christian nation, depriving adherents of other religions of their religious freedom? No, because the Church cannot be and never has been built up by law—either natural law or revealed law. She seeks only to fulfill her Lord’s commission to preach the Gospel to all people. Thus she prays to the Lord that He would guide the rulers of the world so that they permit her to practice the true religion in a peaceful, godly, and reverent manner. Since He is not only the head of the Church but also the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we therefore acknowledge that this is actually the Lord’s doing for the sake of His elect. So when we pray for our government and our elected officials, we are, in reality, recognizing the Lord’s power and authority over the nations of the earth.
But, for what should we pray when we pray for our nation? Paul says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” There is a purpose behind our prayers for our nation and our rulers. That purpose is that we believers in Christ may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. Christians don’t live their lives to the glory of their nation or of their rulers. They live their lives to the glory of God. So we pray that God would bless our nation with good rulers who will not burden us with laws that we cannot, in good conscience, obey. We simply want rulers who recognize the importance of good laws and who will allow us to work and to provide for our families and to bring up our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, while at the same time protecting us from others who would keep us from doing so.
Civil authority is a gift from God. It governs with the sword. It threatens to punish those who place obstacles and temptations before us that would prevent us from living to His glory. So the civil authority does keep a kind of peace in this world.
Yet, the peace that God offers the world through His Church is greater. All the efforts of the nations eventually come to ruin. The same will be the case with our beloved nation. It will either pass into the annals of history or it will be brought to an end on Judgment Day—the Lord alone knows when and how. However, the peace that God spreads throughout the world through His Church is a peace that will continue on into and throughout eternity. This peace is dispensed through the preaching of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ and His cross.
So, our hope is not in a country that will perish, but in that eternal home that will not perish. Our hope is for a homeland whose architect and builder is God. There will be no sin or violence there. There will be no need for the power of the sword. No civil government will be necessary. All its citizens will be perfected inside and out. We will know God even as we are known by Him. The forgiveness we received here and now that flowed from the preaching of the cross of Christ and from His Sacraments to sinners will fully and finally transform us so that we will be free from every vestige of sin. It will be a land in which we never lack anything. We will be content. We will be filled with the love of God and our hearts will be set at peace.
Where this Gospel of sins forgiven through Christ is given free course, there Christ’s people are permitted to live openly to the glory of God and God thereby brings blessings upon that land. This is because Christians are moral people and moral people are productive people and productive people are peaceful people and peaceful people are prosperous people.
We pray for God’s blessings on America because we ourselves have been blessed in a land in which our spiritual fathers and grandfathers were free to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and their consciences, like that of Martin Luther’s, were held captive to the Word of God, the same Word by which we ourselves have been saved.
So is America a Christian nation? If by that one means that only Christ is worshipped and only Christ’s teachings are allowed, then the answer is, obviously, “No. America has never been that kind of nation.” What America is, by God’s grace, is a nation that has been blessed by the Lord Jesus with His Gospel, and where the Gospel is preached and heard there is true freedom and true peace. Through that Gospel sinners are set free from the dominion of darkness and are set at peace with their God and Savior through the forgiveness of sins. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.