Studies in Liberty – The Declaration, The 95 Theses, The Church at Galatia, and Playground Rubber
Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
Dr. Benjamin Rush was practicing medicine in Philadelphia when the American Revolution broke out. In his diary he records a note he wrote to John Quincy Adams that captures the mood during the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the House when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe to what was believed by many at that time to be our death warrants? The silence and gloom of the morning was interrupted, I well recollect, only for a moment by Colonel Harrison of Virginia (a big guy) who said to Mr. Gerry (small in stature) at the table: ‘I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing… From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.’”
Why would 56 men sign a document they knew would be their death sentence? They formed a contract among themselves, declaring their separation from a government that repeatedly violated their God-given right to be free: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The idea of liberty as a right is not an American invention. But the ideal of our founding fathers tying liberty to God is uniquely American. No other civilization in history claims its citizens’ freedoms are given to them by their God. We feel so strongly about this that we engrave it on our currency – ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’. America as a nation was founded on the belief that human rights do not come from men, but from God.
A German monk named Martin Luther understood these same ideals of the American Revolution. He wrote his famous 95 Theses to protest the Government Church’s enslavement of its people by forcing them to pay the Church for forgiveness for their sins, rather than repent and turn to Jesus Christ for the freedom from sin that God offered them. In his “Treatise on Christian Liberty” (Nov. 1520), he explained his he came to know this incredible truth: “That expression ‘righteousness of God’ was like a thunderbolt in my heart. I hated Paul with all my heart when I read that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel. Only afterward, when I saw that the just shall live through faith, I was cheered. When I learned that the righteousness of God is His mercy, and that He makes us righteous through it, a remedy was offered to me in my affliction… it is faith in Christ that makes a man good; his good works follow from that faith.’”
No government, whether federal, state or otherwise, can ensure freedom to its citizens – it is a God-given right that both the Founding Fathers and Martin Luther understood perfectly and were willing to give their lives to defend. And as local attorneys Michael and Jon Whitehead showed us this week, the freedom we enjoy in the United States demands our eternal vigilance or it can be easily taken from us. Both Michael and Jon were on the legal team that recently presented their case in front of the Supreme Court, arguing for Trinity Lutheran Church’s right, under our Constitution and Declaration, to equal access to a public benefit program, without discrimination just because they are a church. What right was being violated?
The church applied for a grant from the state of Missouri to have its pea gravel playground resurfaced with the rubber of recycled tires. Michael Whitehead explained the issue: “The State of Missouri argued that Trinity Lutheran was asking the state to subsidize its religious exercise. The church was only asking for equal access to a public benefit program, without discrimination just because it is a church.” The Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favor of the church, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority: “The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.” Well done, Michael and Jon Whitehead!
As our verse this week from the New Testament book of Galatians reminds us, as Christians we have been given an incredible free gift – the gift of freedom from our sins through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us. Our founding fathers created a nation founded on this truth. Martin Luther learned this truth, and was emboldened to confront the State Church. Michael and Jon Whitehead know this truth also, and defend it every day as outside forces work to undermine our freedom. This Fourth of July, celebrate what is unique compared to anywhere else on the planet: the freedom you enjoy that is God-given, and baked into our founding documents, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.