A Reflection for July 4th, 2012

From The Constitution of the United States of America, Article 2, Section 1: 

“Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'”

The oath for a military officer: 

“I, _____ having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”

Seven or so years ago one of the first cadets I knew was commissioned into the Armed Forces at Virginia Military Institute.  I attended the ceremony in Cameron Hall to see Brad commissioned.  Cameron Hall is where VMI plays basketball and so it is of good size.  On the main floor in four sections were the cadets in their respective branch of the Armed Forces for the ceremony.

Before the ceremony, there were speeches by reps from the 4 branches of  our Nation’s military, all officers.  I was not expecting much in the way of oration.  But the content of one officer’s speech, or the gist of it, has stayed with me.  He soon began to speak of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War.   This grabbed my attention.  The officer then began to explain that Lt. Calley’s defense:  he was following orders.  The officer then said that the lieutenant was following unlawful orders.  But how would he know?, asked the officer.  The speaker then told the cadets-soon-to-be officers of our Armed Forces that finally you do not obey a man,”…but  a bunch of words on a page, and not just any words but The Constitution of the United States of America. ”   When I heard that, my Lutheran heart sang out: Yes!  We are to follow words!   I heard growing up in the Lutheran Church, the Pastor say before offering Absolution, “I, a called Servant of the WORD…”  The Constitution is the final arbiter for which orders are legal. You are to obey words on a page, the Constitution.  Christians are as well to obey words in both the kingdoms of this world and eternally, in the Kingdom of God. Notice in the oaths above, from the President to a senator to a congressman to  the brand-new officer is  a pledge to those words on a page:  our Constitution.  We are forgetting this oath at an alarming rate in our day.

I enjoy reading American History and in particular regarding history of  the colonial period, the lead-up to the American Revolution and that revolution and it’s results.  At least one thing is certain about the American Revolution:  it was against all odds, against the world’s greatest super-power at the time.  Many factors played into it’s success:  a group of men and women of exceptional talents and abilities;   the sheer distance between the Colonies and Great Britain;  homefield advantage;  the rise of Enlightenment thinking and political philosophy, etc.  I think there was another significant factor, which reached into the very hearts of the nascent Americans that made the American Revolution and especially it’s aftermath, the formation of the nation and governmenet  which we swear to “preserve, protect and defend” that made this happen.

Generally speaking, the Protestant Church was predominate.  A Protestant Church, the Church of England, was the offical religion of the British Empire. For instance:  the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg had an Anglican priest preach to them.   Remember that in 1776 the Reformation was just over 200 years old. In the lives of nations, it wasn’t that old yet.  It’s great battle cry was Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone.  The Protestants in their various Church bodies were many:  from Lutherans to Baptists to Anglicans  to Presbyterians.  Now the various Protestants all agreed on one thing:  we follow the Bible, and not a man, i.e. the Pope or a Bishop.  We disagree as to the correct interpretation of the sacred Scriptures and yet one thing was certain:  Scripture is crucial.  The Lord wants us to follow, yes, “a bunch of words on a page”!  Now these words on the page are  not just human words, but the very Word of God, living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword! (See Hebrews 4: 12-14)  .  My contention is that the American Revolution, and especially the Constitution could be written and be implemented, because we were a people already sensible to the rule of words on a page:  the rule of the Word, the Holy Bible.   I would further maintain that the Roman Catholic Church has not abandoned the rule of the Word in it’s worship and teaching, but Protestants were particularly insistant in it’s teaching and preaching as judging all doctrines and practices.  If a practice or behavior was contrary to the Word, then the Scriptures, God’s Word must be obeyed.  If  a doctrine and practice is contrary to the Scriptures, then even a seemingly holy man  espousing a  seemingly holy practice, e.g. praying a Hindu mantra repeatedly, must not be obeyed.

The centrality of the Word of God as recorded in the words of the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is seen in the Creation by the Word of the Lord, to the Call of Abram to the Call on Sinai and the writing by the finger of God the Ten Commandments, to  the preaching and actions of the Judges, Kings, holy women  and the Prophets,  and in the fulness of time, the Word became flesh, and  then the preaching of the Apostles and the apostolic Church, now to the ends of the earth.  I think  this set the stage for the great American experiment in political freedom by law.  As is sung in the song, “Oh, Beautiful for Spacious Skies”:

America!  America! May God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

The American experiment has succeeded because her people were “people of the Book”.   We know that this country’s social contract is The Constitution of the United States of America.  We are to obey a “bunch of words on a page”.  If we get away from the Book, then we suspect that other documents which are authoritative are not.  The cry, Sola Scripture! must be heard in the Church again.  She still needs the Lord’s reforming Word. So does our Nation in these dark days.

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