A New Birth of Freedom
General Conference 2020
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A Call to Prayer for Our Nations
As the United States of America celebrates Independence Day and as Canada has just celebrated Canada Day, I urge all of us to pray for our nations and our world. The United States and Canada have been blessed with liberty and prosperity. A significant reason is that our nations were founded on biblical values. Consequently, God has used our nations to help spread the gospel around the world. However, we are now facing a major crisis involving health, economics, and politics.
In addition to the global pandemic, the US is experiencing racial tensions and social upheaval. While it is both important and biblical to stand for justice and against racism, some radical elements are using this crisis to attack America’s national values and social fabric, including religious freedom, economic freedom, and the rule of law, as well as the institutions of marriage and the family.
We must stand against this attempt to destroy the foundations of our nation, and we must go to God in intercessory prayer. Let us pray for leaders, law enforcement officers, and our national heritage of liberty. Our nation is not perfect, and it must not become an idol, but we should pray for the peace of our cities and nations. (See Psalm 122:6; Jeremiah 29:7.) Even in an ungodly society, a small percentage of righteous people can change the destiny of a city, and intercession can save souls. (See Genesis 18:32.)
A New Birth of Freedom
Both Canada and the US inherited concepts of liberty from the English Common Law and the Magna Carta of 1215. The American Founders held a variety of beliefs, but they were based to a great extent on Christian teachings. Many early settlers came to the New World specifically for freedom to worship God according to their own understanding. Most immigrants also came for economic opportunity based on private property, a market economy, and the rule of law. In formulating the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention prayed for God’s blessing and guidance.
The US Declaration of Independence mentions God no less than four times. First, it cites the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” The Framers sought to justify their actions not by relativism but by moral law that originated from God.
Second, it famously asserts, “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.” God has created all humans to be of equal worth and respect. Human rights do not come from government but from God, and therefore government has no authority to take them away. Government cannot guarantee happiness, but it can protect the pursuit of opportunities based on personal abilities and preferences.
Third, the Declaration appeals to “the Supreme Judge of the world.” The Framers depended upon divine justice. They expected that God would judge their oppressors, and they were willing in turn for God to judge their actions. Finally, the Declaration invokes “the protection of divine Providence.” They relied upon God’s blessing, grace, and care for the new nation.
Atheism and secularism cannot secure human rights, as these philosophies offer no basis for moral law. Under such systems, government becomes the ultimate source of rights, with no higher law to restrain it. Those in control of government can simply implement their will. Even in a democracy, the majority can impose their will upon a minority. Moreover, atheistic systems such as fascism and communism enforce their own definition of happiness upon the entire society by curtailing personal freedom. For example, the atheistic French Revolution of 1789 attempted to impose a strict “equality” of outcomes instead of respecting individual differences, choices, and efforts. It resulted in a reign of terror and ended in dictatorship.
To safeguard human rights, the US Constitution includes the Bill of Rights, which is designed to protect basic freedoms against government and majority opinion, because they stem from the created order. Most importantly, the First Amendment protects the freedoms of religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and petition. These freedoms are based on biblical teachings of the human conscience, the value of the human soul, and individual accountability to God.
The US Constitution rests on these principles. It is the oldest existing written constitution in the world. At the time it was adopted, the major nations had various forms of monarchy; none was fully democratic. The Constitution instituted a republican government, namely, a representative democracy to guard against a tyranny of the majority. It created a limited government of enumerated powers, separation of powers, and checks and balances. The reason for these limitations and checks is that the Framers understood the biblical doctrine of universal human sinfulness. As James Madison explained, if humans were angels there would be no need for government. They knew that, as Lord Acton would later state, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The new nation was not perfect, but it created a system that led to unprecedented freedom, social mobility, and economic opportunity. Of course, a major evil was the inherited system of slavery. Some of the Founders opposed slavery, while others owned slaves, but they came to realize that it fundamentally contradicted the Declaration of Independence. They expected that it would eventually be eliminated but did not know how to accomplish this immense task. As an initial step, the Constitution provided that the “importation” of persons (international slave trade) could be ended in 1808, which indeed occurred.
Eventually, the Civil War abolished slavery, at the enormous cost of 650,000 deaths, or two percent of the population. In his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln stated that slavery was the ultimate cause of the war and suggested that the war’s devastation was divine judgment for the sin of slavery. Although praying for the war’s soon end, he stated, quoting Psalm 19:9, “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Initially, some of Lincoln’s opponents argued that the Constitution allowed slavery. Lincoln replied that the Declaration of Independence is the nation’s highest statement of principles and is the foundation for the Constitution. While the Constitution tacitly accepted an existing social structure as the price of forming the nation, the Declaration proclaimed truths that would ultimately destroy slavery. Thus, in his day, the nation had the opportunity and responsibility to end this evil. As he stated in the Gettysburg Address, it was time for “a new birth of freedom” to fulfill the principles upon which the nation was founded.
As a result of the Civil War, the Constitution was amended to abolish slavery (1865), to guarantee the rights of citizenship, “due process of law,” and “equal protection of the laws” on both the national and state levels (1868), and to grant the right to vote regardless of race or color (1870). At the nation’s founding, voting was determined by the states and was limited to free men who owned property, which included some black men, but gradually the property requirements were eliminated. Subsequent Constitutional amendments extended the vote to women (1920); eliminated poll taxes, which were used to bar poor people, usually blacks, from voting (1964); and allowed youth to vote beginning at age eighteen (1971). In practice, however, the black vote was illegally suppressed in the South until the landmark Voting Rights Acts of 1965.
This legislation was a major accomplishment of the Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He appealed to both the teachings of Scripture and the nation’s founding to oppose racism and to advocate civil rights for all. His historic speech “I Have a Dream” stated: “When the architects of our Great Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Today, we should protect our national heritage of democracy and liberty and oppose any attempt to undermine or destroy it. Of course, our highest allegiance is to God and His Word. Therefore, we pray for God’s guidance, protection, and blessing upon our nation as we seek to implement its highest ideals. Ultimately, the hope for our nation and our world is an apostolic revival. Let us continue to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sincerely in Christ,
David K. Bernard
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