As I have considered the state of our country (as so many of you), it can be easy to become disheartened. So many wonder what has happened to those aspects of the United States that seem clouded, tattered, and marred somehow. Values once held dear no longer seem to guide our path.
Many of us have been involved in conversations; brainstorming lists of things we think might be the cause and hoping for what might be the cure. This second of three posts looks a little more at what we are seeking to understand about our country and our responsibility to it.
No, it doesn’t always look so discouraging, but the challenges we appear to face as a nation have no quick or easy solutions. To many, it seems we have lost our mooring.
Perhaps too many of us have forgotten the foundations that were laid at the beginning of this new nation, things like the Golden Triangle I mentioned in my previous post. Sadly, some of us have not learned of them at all. Clearly, we have not tended to their upkeep.
Recently, I started reading the latest book by Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It. Page by page his words and research uncovers things long forgotten.
History buffs may well know the meaning of the book’s title. For anyone else, it is a story worth telling.
Its origins go back to the time when delegates came together in Philadelphia to strengthen the foundation of this fledgling nation. They knew The Articles of Confederation were not adequate to sustain the strengthening and development of a cohesive strong country. It was at this convention our Constitution would be formed after much wrangling and more than a few disputes.
The nation waited to find out what form of government would be chosen.
On the day the work was completed in 1787, one of the delegates from Maryland observed an exchange between Benjamin Franklin and a woman from Philadelphia whose paths intersected as Franklin came out of the building where the convention had been meeting.
The woman asked Benjamin Franklin what form of government had been decided upon, a monarchy or a republic. The delegate from Maryland observed and wrote down the words Franklin spoke, “A republic, madam—if you can keep it.”
Franklin understood the new nation’s government was fragile and what had been crafted was unlike any government anywhere in the world. The new nation would carry the opportunity and the responsibility of “we, the people”.
What had brought this group of men to a point of consensus had its origins many years earlier, however.
Those foundations were shaped in significant ways by an English preacher who first came to our shores in 1739. His name was George Whitefield. Many who had heard of his preaching in England had anticipated his arrival. What he did became known as The Great Awakening and it was!!
His preaching broke down the barriers and divisions that existed among people, denominations, and their view of government. His message was clear and so eloquent that he moved even Benjamin Franklin who had never claimed to be a Christian.
Thousands flocked to hear him. There was no room that could hold those eager to hear his words so most of his messages were spoken outside. He did not have the benefit of a sound stage, microphone, or speakers, but his voice resonated so well that those even at the edges of the crowds could hear him.
The centrality of his message was about the “new birth” and about being “born again”.
Listen to the words of Metaxas:
“This egalitarian “born again” faith fit well with the American character, because it supported the idea that different denominations could coexist and respect one another, that their similarities were more important than their differences.”
Later he adds:
“People were being offered a new identity that fit well with the American way of thinking. Some were German by background and some were French and some were English, but none of it mattered. They were all equal under God; they were all Americans. This was something new, an identity that was separate from one’s ethnicity or one’s denomination. To be an American meant to buy into a new set of ideas about one’s equal status in God’s eyes—and by dint of this to be accepted into a new community, to be an American.”
The messages and themes of Whitefield reduced the fear of authority and government that so many in the new colonies brought with them from the strong-armed governments they had left behind. The biblical foundation that all men (and women) were equal no matter their gender or ethnicity and could have a direct relationship with God stood in contrast to the official churches of the countries of their origin.
We have never been perfect nor have we been able to grasp what walking out the biblical truths should look like, but certainly one thing we would do well to consider before it is too late would be the foundations we have forgotten and left untended.
Metaxas writes about the place of Whitefield and how God used his preaching to bring this nation together.
“The Gospel of Christ was the most powerful sociological leveler in history, and although the message had existed for seventeen centuries, it would burst into full bloom only now—at this crucial point in history—under the watering can of Whitefield’s preaching. And over the decades this changed the colonies and created an American people.”
Beyond the pundits and politicians, I think we most need to pray that the Lord will raise up a George Whitefield for this day that brings the centrality of his message to unite us, shape our character, and make us whole.