All across America, people are getting ready to celebrate our nation's Declaration of Independence from the rule of the King of England. Parades, parties and fireworks mark the event in all the states, and people are preparing for cook-outs and get-togethers in countless homes and backyards. The text of the Declaration of Independence will be read at many of these gatherings today, words which represent for many Americans a moral standard that our nation should strive to uphold. Some of these words can have a deeper meaning for Christians, if viewed in the proper light.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Probably the best-known sentence in the English language, these words have been quoted countless times in the quest to make a better world for ourselves and our children, and they have left an indelible mark on the Church in America. But rights carry responsibilities, and as Christians we need to keep the final sentence of the Declaration in our thoughts when we go about living as members of the Church, and of our communities: "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." Jesus calls us to live this way with our brethren, but are we really living this in our churches? There are all sorts of missionary, evangelistic and charitable outreaches from churches today, as we seek to fulfill His will for us concerning our fellow man, but do we live this way when it comes to the person sitting in the pew behind us? I think that this is something that we all need to look at, as I have heard many people echo the sentiments I once shared with them, "I quit going to church because of the way the people treated me/someone else/each other."
These are very difficult words to live by, because they carry a price; a cost to our self-interests, our pocketbooks, and our egos. And I can't lay all the blame on others for failing to live up to them in our churches, because I haven't either. Yet, I can't remain silent on the subject as I see other people causing dissension in congregations and church leaderships harming members simply to further a financial agenda. I'm not going to stand up and champion a cause or defend an individual, as is so popular in our modern culture of fifteen minutes of fame; instead, I'll take my lead from many that came before me long ago and call out for each of us to look within ourselves and think. "Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord", Jeremiah wrote. Each of us. As individuals and as congregations. A lot of preachers in the emergent church are taking a long look at why people leave the church and how to bring them back, but I don't know if any of them have done so with a view to that last sentence of the Declaration.
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" may be the best known words from the Declaration of Independence, but their importance pales in comparison to "pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." The last three words are the most important, because when all of the material wealth is stripped away, all we have left to pledge to another is our Honor.
That Honor is sacred for a reason.