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As 2013 marks the 521st anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ famous discovery of the “New World”, the Americas, which had hitherto been unknown by Europeans, this examiner has been thinking about how America fits in the grand scheme of world history. On one hand, five hundred years may seem like a long time, but when put in perspective, the fact that Christopher Columbus lived a mere five centuries ago shows how “young” the United States is.
The average pub in Oxford, England is centuries older than America’s oldest institutions. Oxford University’s “new building” dates back to the mid-18th century, before the American Revolution. Travel to the Middle East and it’s easy to spot sites that make England’s look recent. Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre dates back to the 4th century. The pyramids of Egypt have been standing since before the ancient prophet Moses was ever born. What’s the point?
America has a tendency to view itself as the greatest nation on earth—some have even insinuated it’s the greatest nation that’s ever been on earth. What we need to do though is keep some humility, realizing that America is still a little too young to be too high and mighty about its own status. It would not be an exaggeration to say democratic republics—the form of government the U.S. founding fathers established—are still in the “experimental” stage. Whether America, or any other democracy, will stand the test of time remains to be seen. That’s not intended as a criticism of democracy; it’s just a reminder that nations are not everlasting. The greatest of the greatest empires of the ancient world all came to a close. America is not immortal.
This is important to remember because if we forget this, we will think ourselves invincible, entitled to God's perpetual blessing when, in reality, we have no such entitlement. The only nation that God ever, by way of special revelation, made unique promises to was the ancient nation of Israel. That America will have a prosperous future is not a “given”, something that can be simply taken for granted. God didn’t give North America to the colonists in the way that he gave the Promised Land to the ancient Hebrews (although the pilgrims at times erroneously made the mistake of viewing the “New World” as a sort of Promised Land that God had ordained for them to take over).
This week on "Renewing Your Mind", which airs weekdays at 7:35 a.m. on The Tradition, 1120 AM WTWZ (Clinton, MS), Dr. Steven Godfrey discussed the question of whether the American church is "healthy". Dr. Godfrey pointed out that the nation's church is healthy, if one judges that by church attendance, money donated, and building projects. Whether it is spiritually healthy, though, is harder to pin down, he said. Survey after survey shows that though most Americans profess Christianity, a small minority have what would be classified as a consistent Christian worldview. Denominations that historically have been famous for their stand for the gospel are now declining, as their commitment to historic Christianity wanes. This month, Christianity Today featured an editorial from Mark Galli ("Whatever Happened to Grace?") highlighting how legalistic mainstream evangelical Christianity has become. The message that free grace that begins, sustains, and ends the Christian life is one that, if preached at all, is very obscured in many churches.
What’s the point? If American Christians want to help America prosper and grow as a nation—which is, of course, a good thing to desire—one of the best things to do is begin by trying to help strengthen the American church. If the church declines, the nation will decline as well. Long after America is an obscure piece of history, the church—the Body of Christ—will still be functioning. Let American Christians serve God and serve their country, but let us never get muddled about which allegiance takes precedent. Happy Columbus Day!