Division of Theology and Government

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR

July 4, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 8132-835-0129

A division of theology and government was as far from the signers of the Declaration of Independence as the east is from the west.  The Declaration is not a religious document to be sure.  It is however a statement of political position anchored firmly in a clear understanding of the sovereignty of God over the affairs of men.  It does not attempt to defend a theology.  It simply assumes the existence of God and an understanding of his divine nature.

When we understand this we also understand that these men were not Deists.  Deism was a common belief in the eighteenth century.  It held that God existed and created the universe, but was totally aloof from the affairs of men and history.  Mankind was on its own.

It might be possible to hold the document was deistic on the ground of the first two paragraphs which speak of “Nature and Nature’s God,” and “We are endowed by our Creator…”  However, the final two paragraphs of the Declaration sink any attempt at this hypothesis.

When the representatives of the colonies state, “We therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…,” they clearly believe that God is intimately involved in their enterprise.  God did not wind up the watch and then leave it to run down alone and unattended.  He is involved in judging the world and supporting “rectitude” against injustice.

If there is any doubt concerning the faith of the framers of our national identity they give us a concluding statement of a powerful faith in God and each other.  “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor.”

The theological language of the eighteenth century was a bit different than we would use today.  The word “Providence” was often used as a synonym for God, especially when speaking of his ordering of the affairs of men and history.  This is clear at a careful reading.  An abstraction cannot protect anything.  “Protection of divine Providence” means the protection of God.

The Declaration is no religious creed.  It does, however, speak clearly of some basic faith commitments.  First, the existence of God.  Second, that God alone created the world and ordered it, both naturally and morally.  Third, that God is a God of justice who is in the process of enforcing his just character by blessing those who uphold justice and refusing to bless those who oppose it.  And finally, and not so evident, that God has revealed himself to mankind in nature and in the written Word of God.  If this were not so, the fifty-six signers of the Declaration would not know what they clearly know about God.

In 1777 things were not going well on the battlefield.  In Congress at Philadelphia Dr. Benjamin Rush quietly asked John Adams whether he thought they could win the war.  Adams is reported as answering, “Yes! – if we fear God and repent of our sins.”

Happy birthday America!  Born on the Fourth of July – One nation under God, still “the Supreme judge of the world.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).  END-whs

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