Why do the nations rage and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away. Their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure. “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.”
“I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ ”
Now therefore, be wise, O kings, be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. — Psalm 2
As a young student reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom, I assumed that the phrase “one nation, under God” had always been part of it. That’s not surprising since I had been taught the pledge’s words but not its history. So when news slowly trickled out some years ago that activist teachers had begun removing the phrase, I was among many who were not pleased. But we were then surprised to learn that the homage to God had only been added to the pledge in 1954. That’s not to say that learning this fact changed our displeasure at it being cut out by unpatriotic teachers, but it was a surprise.
In preparation for this blog, I did a quick search because I couldn’t remember when or why it had been added. I remembered that it was added, in part, due to the Cold War. But here’s some of what I learned. Prior to the pledge we know today, Civil War veteran Colonel George Balch had written a pledge that was popularly used. It said simply, “We give our heads and our hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag.”
But then in 1892 a youth magazine wanted a piece to coincide with an upcoming celebration of the flag so staff writer Francis Bellamy, a “Christian socialist and former Baptist minister,”1wrote the pledge we know today. Unlike Balch, Bellamy included no reference to God. This point was not lost on many. For the next 64 years citizens championed the idea of adding a statement of godly reverence to the pledge, just as Balch had. During those years various other changes had been made, but it wasn’t added until 1954 when the preaching of Rev. George Docherty, an immigrant from Scotland, won over President Eisenhower, who then signed it into law.
Remembering how in Scotland they frequently said, “God save our precious queen” and “God save our precious king,” Rev. Docherty was troubled that we left God out of our pledge entirely.2 He talked about it in his sermons, with the president sitting in his congregation. “To omit the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life,” Rev. Docherty said from the pulpit. He felt that “under God” was broad enough to include Jews and Muslims, but he discounted atheists altogether. “An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms,” Docherty said in his sermon. “If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life.”
Just think about that for a minute. Docherty believed that the Christian mindset was such an integral part of what made this country America that anyone who didn’t have that moral compass, that mentality, wasn’t really an American at heart. Could that be said today, some 67 years later? What a difference 60 years can make!
People today think that we’ve always had this “wall of separation of church and state” as an unbreakable prohibition from the Church uttering even a hushed word about what happens in politics. They have enshrined that phrase in bullet-proof glass, sadly separated from its context, its original meaning and its limitations.
In 1961, however, an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch told a different story. Its headline pronounced, “Lutherans Warned to Shun Liberalism” and its body copy gave the details. One of their leaders, Rev. August Brustat, addressed 400 of the denomination’s delegates and warned against their participation and fellowship with the National Council of Churches because that group had begun moving “down a path parallel to Communist objectives.” Rev. Brustat pointed out some of the council’s positions and values:
- Peaceful coexistence with Communism
- Recognition of China
- Bans on nuclear testing
- Abolition of loyalty oaths.
“I don’t say they were card carrying Communists,” he said, “but they were dupes, unwitting tools of the Communists. Evangelical Christianity can no more coexist with Communism than God can coexist with the devil.”
So in 1961 the National Council of Churches didn’t seem to think there was a wall of separation that should prevent them from taking political positions. Neither did Rev. Brustat, though his position was diametrically opposed to theirs. Notice that he didn’t object to them speaking out on political issues. He only objected to them endorsing political positions that he felt were in opposition with the Bible. This idea that it is wrong for pastors and Christians to speak out on political issues and even to discuss those issues from a biblical framework doesn’t date back to the writing of the Constitution. It’s actually relatively new, and we were as wrong about it as we were about the Pledge of Allegiance always honoring God. The founders talked about God quite a bit and invoked Him in their writing of the Declaration of Independence and in their writing of the Constitution. Presidents throughout our history spoke about God. And pastors throughout our history have spoken out, gotten involved and boldly challenged society and politicians when culture or law violated God’s laws.
A week after writing the first half of this blog I had the pleasure of listening to David Barton expound upon little known details about the founding of this country. Seldom have I left a meeting so excited and more informed. He spoke quite a bit about the founding of this country, sharing details about how involved the pastors and the churches were in the Revolutionary War. For example, while history books used to say that 70 American men from Lexington and 300 from Concord stood against the British in the first skirmishes, what they didn’t tell you was that those weren’t just any men. In both cases they were actually the men of two specific churches, one led by Rev. Jonas Clark and the other by Rev. William Emerson. It was the Church that stood up to defend these towns!
And it was the preachers who were the most instrumental in making the case for resistance against the British and the founding of an independent country. They were highly influential in the concepts of the Constitution. They and the founders would have more than scoffed at the idea that Christianity should be excluded from the discussion of politics. They would have fought vehemently against such an idea!
Christianity is neither a hobby nor a pass-time. It isn’t a personal preference nor a part-time job. It’s an all-encompassing relationship with the Creator of the Universe, the judge of all men, the Savior of those who give their lives to Him. God did not simply create the Holy Land. He created the whole earth. The White House is often called “the People’s House” but in reality it belongs to God.
For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
— Psalm 50:10-11
God owns more than simply the animals. He owns America, and He owns us. Elijah had the courage to speak to power, as they say today. He faced down the king of Israel and did not cower before him. Most people would have been intimidated to stand in the presence of the king. With a word the king could have called for Elijah’s immediate execution. But Elijah’s attention was fixed on God, not on the king.
And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” — 1 Kings 17:1
When we are facing ridicule from our peers, whom do we stand before — them or God? When we face the possibility of losing our jobs, whom do we stand before — our employers or God? When we face the possible loss of family relationships, whom do we stand before — our loved ones on earth or our Heavenly Father? Elijah recognized the presence of God even in the court of the king. We, too, are in the presence of God. We, too, are under God, whether we acknowledge it or not. Our president, our congress, our senate, our judges, our employers, our school administrators, our family, our friends, our neighbor — all will be called to account.
It’s been said that no one is above the law. No one is exempt, though far too few are aware. But the day will come when every knee will bow before the King of Kings. How much better it will be though, to be among those who were already bowing and kneeling! The knee willingly bent to God will one day leap and dance in His eternal kingdom.
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. — Revelation 19:11–16