Apparently the Christian right has planned an event for May 1, 2010—May Day 2010 (HT: Allan Bledsoe). According to the May Day 2010 site this event is “a cry to God for a nation in distress.” They call “Christian leaders of all denominations who love God to humble ourselves, pray, seek the face of God, and turn from our wicked ways—individually and as a nation.” In this context, they quote Psalm 106:44-45,
But he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.
The event is cast in terms of a national covenant. I was a little surprised and disappointed not to see a quotation from 2 Chron 7:14 until I looked at the bulletin insert (for churches):
“If My people who are called by My name will humble them-
selves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked
ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin
The great difficulty here is that while God has people in the USA the USA, as such is not “my people.” From the moment Jesus was nailed to the cross there could never be another “my people.” Indeed, in important ways, long before the cross national Israel was “not my people.” When he came, Jesus was God’s “my people.” Jesus is the Israel of God. There has been no covenant between God and a national people since national Israel.
Now, I’m in favor of prayer. Christians should gather in congregations to pray and it is appropriate for Reformed Christians to gather in congregations to pray. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for those in authority over us (1 Tim 2:1-2) and it is the practice of Reformed congregations to do so. It is appropriate for Christians to be involved in civil society, to seek to bring to bear in that sphere the moral, creational, natural law. They ought to call on the magistrate to fulfill his duty to uphold righteousness (Rom 13) but we do so submissively (Titus 3:1).
We Christians have a dual citizenship. According to Paul, our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Of course, we are also citizens here, in this world. Our dual citizenship means that we must prioritize our loyalties. We must be good citizens of the earthly polities in which we live but clearly, the biblical priority is upon our heavenly citizenship. I can’t imagine the Apostle countenancing a mass demonstration by Philippian Christians against the Roman dictatorship. The quiet assertion of legal rights, yes. Paul did so when he asked for a trial—which was his right under Roman law.
The modifier “quiet” is significant here. To live quietly is not quietism. Before anyone calls me a pietist, be careful. God’s Word says:
“…and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs” (1 Thess 4:11)
“Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess 3:12)
I can imagine someone objecting, “But Paul wants only a certain class of people to be quiet in 2 Thess.” True, Paul is addressing a specific problem among the Thessalonians, but it’s not as if he wants them only to live quietly. We’ve seen that already. So I go back to the rest of 1 Tim 2:12. We are to pray for those in authority over us
“…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim 2:2)
In other words, Paul’s hope is that we Christians will be left alone to live out our faith, in this world, with “real-world” (what, heaven isn’t “real”? Hebrews 11 says it is!) consequences yes, but with our eyes fixed on that city whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10). Our eyes are to be focused on the “city of the living God” (Heb 12:22) because “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb 13:14).
Yes, pray for the nation but in mass demonstration? The May Day website says that this is not for the media or the politicians? Really? Since when did anyone gather in DC who did not want the attention of the media or the politicians? No wonder folks are cynical about the church! To the world this will look like nothing if not a grab for power and influence. If this was really and only about prayer there would not gathering in DC but rather there would be quiet gatherings in congregations. Yes, pray for the nation, but not as if Americans are God’s covenant people. We aren’t. He has covenant people here but national promises have been fulfilled. In Exodus 24, as God’s national people, Israel swore a covenant saying, “‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.'” Then, according to Scripture, “Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.'”
Have you read the major prophets? Have you read the minor prophets? Do you know the history of Israel? Israel did not keep her covenant with Yahweh, but Jesus did. He kept all the words of the law for all the people his Father gave to him from all eternity. What this country needs is not another prayer rally in DC but heartfelt prayer in divine services, confessing the sins of the church and calling out to the Lord of the church for forgiveness. Chief among those sins is failing to reckon with God’s holy law for what it is and for failing to see ourselves in light of that law for what we are. Concomitant with those sins is the sin of our ministers of failing to preach the gospel of Christ’s glorious law keeping, death, and resurrection for his people.
The Savior we preach will come in glory, yes, but now is not that time. The Savior we preach came in humiliation and suffering. Now is not a time for a theology of triumph and glory. It’s too soon for that. We’ll know when that time is, when the King of the Nations comes in glory and power. Now all we have to offer to sinners is God’s righteous law and his stumbling-block foolishness, the gospel of a crucified Savior raised on the third day.