/ Nathan Eshelman

Not All Independence is Created Equal

Hot dogs and burgers on the grill. Potato salad sitting in the sun all day. A day off work to swim, relax, and enjoy a cold one (Mexican Coke, please). Fireworks bursting in the night sky. We love our independence as a country.

We also remember longingly the freedoms we used to have and no longer enjoy. As my kids grow older, I will tell them, “When I was a kid drones did not watch our every move from the sky. People used to have freedom of choice with their bodies—they did not HAVE to purchase medical insurance to avoid additional taxes! When I was a kid you could go to the airport without the presumption of guilt that resulted in “assault” from government agents. When I was a kid there was a lot more freedom than you have now!”

Why do we love our freedom? Why is our independence so important to us? Some may say, “Well, the founding fathers said...” and then import some platitude or humanistic philosophy to underscore the love of independence.

You know the line. Thomas Jefferson wrote it. Fireworks, hot dogs, and potato salad celebrate it. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But what does that mean?

Did declaring independence from good ol’ King George really grant us any of these rights? Did independence really occur? When Jefferson said “all men” did he really mean “all men”? When he said “Creator” did he mean “Creator God”? Were these “inalienable rights” really “inalienable”?

Put down the fireworks for a moment.
Swallow that bite of potato salad; you will want to hear this.

You see, the problem with this statement is that we read it through our presuppositions. We interpret the meaning of each of the words using our own worldview. But there are problems as we celebrate independence. There are facts that we must come to terms with. Not all independence is created equal and with a biblical worldview; it is self-evident.

Surely Independence Day Brought Independence

Well, yes and no. Men like me were free from the bondage of a 10% tea tariff. We were freed from the English. We were free to build our own government (don’t get me started on the phrase “by the people”). We were free to find our own way in the new world and to start a grand experiment.

But who is “we”?

Like I said, men...  like me.

Independence had to be read through the presuppositions of the writers. White men. White Protestant men. White Protestant men were free. Seventy-six years after the Declaration of Independence, a day that so many of us celebrate as the beginning of freedom in modern society, Frederick Douglass was asked to give a speech in Rochester, NY, entitled, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” The speech is worth reading and meditating upon. It’s worth feeling uncomfortable over. Here is a portion of that speech:

Americans! Your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen...You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate (and glory in your hatred,) all men whose skins are not colored like your own.

Uncomfortable, isn’t it? If you say you agree with him, some will say you are unpatriotic and un-American. If you don’t agree with him, others will say you are racist. It’s an uncomfortable speech.

We need to be a little uncomfortable.

While we are enjoying hot dogs and fireworks and Mexican Coke, remember: not all independence is created equal. As wonderful as liberation from the English was (and I am so very grateful that I live in America), it was not independence for all. Not all men were given inalienable rights.

Genuine Independence Brings Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Blessedness

Now that I have made you uncomfortable (outraged?), I want to encourage you that being uncomfortable, even while embracing a heritage of independence, is a good thing. We must remember that there is an independence that we have access to that surpasses anything that humanistic philosophy could produce by way of man-centered government.

Roughly 130 years before the Declaration of Independence was penned, during another time of political transition, a document was written in England (the antagonist of our 4th of July drama, no less). During that time of political change, the question of independence also was brought into the discussion. What is liberty? (Remember, not all independence is created equal.) The conclusion was that true independence is only found within the freedom of union and communion with Jesus Christ:

I. The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love, and a willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law; but under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith on worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.

III. They who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty; which is, that, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

IV. And because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another; they who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation; or to the power of godliness; or such erroneous opinions or practices as, either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church: they may be lawfully called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the Church, and by the power of the Civil Magistrate. (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 20)

Isn’t that humbling? Within the Westminster Confession of Faith, written over 350 years ago, is Scripture’s profound message of freedom still relevant to Americans (and the antagonistic British) in 2012. We are free! Independence has been purchased for the people of God! Not all independence is created equal. The enemy in this securing of independence was not the British, but sin, death, hell, the wrath of God, and your own heart.

So while you may feel uncomfortable with my political views (which is just good ol' fashioned Covenanter political thought), please take comfort in the fact that the independence that I proclaim is an independence that can be truly found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Independence from sin. Independence from the bondage of the ceremonial law. Independence from the doctrines of men. Independence to live unto His glory!

As you enjoy the freedom of choosing a hot dog or a hamburger (or both, as in my case), as you enjoy the freedom to drink the (real) sugary goodness of a Mexican Coke, as you enjoy the freedom to eat mayonnaise-laden potato salad which has spoiled in the hot sun, please reflect on independence. Real independence.

Not all independence is created equal. The independence that our founders declared was not a complete independence—physically, morally, or spiritually. I am grateful that I am an American, but I frequently think of the injustices that have and continue to occur in this country that I love. Despite the flaws- I have a greater freedom in Jesus. Genuine independence is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. On this day, if you wave the flag, please remember the cross. Herein is independence- we call it Christian Liberty.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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