I’m glad we have a National Day of Prayer. Our own community observed the NDOP with a service of prayer that included all the churches (!) in our community. Praise God. It was great because Christians from very different backgrounds came together and actually prayed! Powerful stuff.
But there seems to be a strange confusion with the National Day of Prayer, a conflation of church and state.
And that confusion is exemplified by Greg Laurie, the honorary national chairman of the NDOP, in his article in the Washington Post. He starts out:
Everywhere we look in America, we see signs of decline. That’s because we have largely forgotten God, but the good news is God has not forgotten us.
Pretty good, so far. Decline. Remembering and turning to God. Check. But then he immediately veers off into the ditch.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In other words, America has two options: judgment or revival.
Or not. If he had bothered to read 2 Chronicles 7, he would know that the context is in the dedication of Solomon’s temple and the LORD’s appearance to the king. The “my people” is not a nation-state somewhere in the future in the New World. But “my people” is the faith community, Israel. Not America.
Yes, I know it can be confusing that in the Old Testament “Israel” refers to a political entity and God’s spiritual people, rolled into one. They had kings and judges, as well as elders and priests. The problem is that of analogy. The contemporary analog of ancient, biblical Israel (as a political-spiritual entity) is not America-and-Christians—except for maybe if you’re a Mormon. Because if that were true, Barack Obama would be our king/high priest, and Harry Reid and John Boehner would be heads of the Sanhedrin. But the best analogy for Old Testament Israel, as we read the Bible today, is simply the church. Jesus is our king and high priest. And our ecclesiastical leaders function as priests and elders in the OT. Much better, yes?
Laurie goes on with the mistaken analogy:
Unlike Rome, the United States was built on a Judeo-Christian foundation, but we have strayed dramatically from the vision of our Founding Fathers. Freedom of religion seems to have become freedom from religion. We have removed God from our schools, our sporting events, our public places and our workplaces.
So let me trace the comparison: Our modern “Israel” (aka the United States) was established by divinely guided prophets (the founding fathers); we have strayed from their pristine vision of theocracy by kicking God out of our public life. Therefore, we are crumbling and need to repent and return to God (even, apparently, the non-Christians among us), reclaiming him in all public places.
Perhaps this has a lot to do with whether you think America was founded as a “Christian nation” or a “nation of Christians” or a secular republic that took no official, precise doctrinal stance on the nature of the almighty Creator mentioned in the founding documents. Or something else. But this recounting of America’s history seems a little sloppy and simplistic.
Even Laurie’s last analogy (the repentance of Nineveh after the preaching of Jonah) is flawed. (And don’t even get me started on his non sequitur about America and the End Times.) In the ancient world, people groups were bound by social, religious, political, and cultural/linguistic forces (e.g., Assyria and Israel). Today, we are not. Our nation, like it or not, does not have one official “god.” It is set up so we are free to practice our faith as we see fit (unless it’s something illegal!), and that is a good thing. If the founders had set up an official state church, by the way, Greg Laurie would have to find peace as an Episcopalian! Or maybe a Presbyterian or a Congregationalist—the other two dominant faith groups in the New World. The “God” mentioned in the Enlightenment-saturated documents of our founding fathers is probably not the same as the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ, the eternal God-Man who died for humanity’s sins and was raised from the dead, but rather an indolent deistic personality that passively oversees the affairs of humankind.
Don’t get me wrong: I love having the National Day of Prayer. And yes, we need to repent and return to God. And when I say “we,” I don’t mean “America,” but I mean “us Christians.” And yes, it is our job as Christians to make a difference in our society, inviting unbelievers to put their faith in Christ and to embrace lives of righteousness. But that is a spiritual calling, not a political agenda.