This weekend, Americans will celebrate the 229th anniversary of the nation's stated independence from England. On that singular day, July 4, 1776, the original thirteen colonies declared their autonomy from the British Crown because of grievances against King George. The colonists saw their individual rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of property" being overruled by an expansive government thousands of miles away. They were willing to die for the chance to live their lives without being regulated at every turn. Liberty, freedom, independence, and democracy were the words of the day, and they have been the rallying cry for America ever since—for better or worse.
The Founders' vision was a republic with a limited federal government, with most of the power left to the states—and to the individual. They knew at the beginning that the success or failure of this grand experiment was largely up to the citizenry: By reducing the Federal power, the individual was intended to step in and fill the vacuum. The Founders were not prescribing or advocating anarchy, but rather a system where the central government could afford to be small because the individual would be governing himself. They knew that it would only work as long as everyone involved was absolutely dedicated to morality. If corrupt leaders began usurping more authority, or if the citizens abrogated their responsibilities in governing themselves, expecting the government to provide more and do more, the Republic's days were numbered.
The Founders were optimists. The weakness with the system of government they developed was the same weakness inherent in the Old Covenant: the people (Hebrews 8:8,10). The people did not, and do not, have the heart to govern themselves. Over the years, the size, scope, and authority of the government have only increased, and the citizens have become only more dependent. The Founders had the right idea, for self-governance is indeed what God prescribes. But it is the character and quality of the self that is doing the governing that matters, and no system of man will ever overcome the problem of the "deceitful . . . and desperately wicked" human heart (Jeremiah 17:9).
King George's power and authority cannot begin to compare to the government that Jesus Christ will establish when He returns—"of His Kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:33). After His resurrection, Christ told His disciples that "all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). His government is anything but limited! However, it will be only those individuals who choose to govern themselves—after being given a heart to make it possible—who will be citizens of the Kingdom and rule with Jesus Christ.
American citizens have become increasingly dependent upon the government for programs, subsidies, welfare, and regulation in every conceivable facet of life—and in the other nations of Israel, the dependency and collectivism is even greater! It is easy to tally the expansion of government and the loss of individual liberty, but during this season, perhaps it would be more profitable to contemplate our own level of self-governance:
God, through Solomon, tells us, "A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother" (Proverbs 10:1). God is our Father, and He is training His children to be wise—to make the right application of the knowledge and understanding He imparts. Just as human parents raise their children with the goal of preparing them to be on their own some day, God is raising us to be able to take on more and more responsibility. There are things that we cannot do for ourselves, just as there are things we parents must do for our children as they grow and mature. But a major goal of childrearing—whether ours or God's—is to produce self-governing citizens who do not require heavy-handed authority to ensure that they are moving in the right direction.
As the citizens of the United States beg, in various ways, for more government, the nation is sliding back toward the state of dependence from whence it began. There is little anyone can do to stop it. Members of the church of God, though, can learn from this failing experiment, and let it drive us to become self-governing citizens of the Kingdom of God.
- David C. Grabbe