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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

Date Posted: May 25, 2018

Holidays are usually set aside to commemorate an historic event or person. Bridges, buildings, roads, statues, and monuments used to remind us as well. But why is it important to remember? In remembering we celebrate and rededicate ourselves to upholding the principles, sacrifice and creativity shown by those who have gone before. But what does the past really have to do with the present or future?

It has been wisely said that those who fail to remember the past are doomed to relive it. (Santayana) How so? Technologically, man today is vastly different from his predecessors; emotionally and psychologically he is little changed. We are still tempted, excited and angered by the same things; capable of doing the worst, needing encouragement to do our best. Remembering can be a way of doing just that.

Memorials are not new. Ancient man knew the value of visual aids as reminders of past achievements and agreements, as well as encouragement to remain faithful to the rule of law and one’s God. A telling summary of a memorial’s purpose is recorded in Joshua 4. Upon crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the Israelites were instructed to collect twelve stones, one for each tribe that made up the nation and make a pillar of remembrance, “…to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them… These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

The feast days, holy days or holidays of Israel served the same purpose. The instructions they received were to be everlasting, even the ceremonial ones. “When you enter the land…, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them,…” Exodus 12:24-27 In recounting the past we not only pass on bits of history but reinforce who we were and possibly, who we need to be. Memorials teaching principles and ideals that are often lost in the hustle and bustle of life; engendering curiosity, giving us opportunity.

Much of our culture is built upon the beliefs and actions of our forefathers. This truth is at the center of a national debate as to whether we should continue to follow in their footsteps or make our own way. Some question the relevance of these men’s faith and the practical influence it exerted in their lives. Some doubt the necessity of church altogether, even as it stands as a memorial to Christ’s life and his call on us to go and do likewise. Others question from within the necessity of certain practices of the church, ie. baptism and communion; both specifically called for as examples of obedience and identification with him who calls us to salvation. (Rom. 6:3-5,1 Corinthians 11:23-26, “…do this in remembrance of me.”) Our nation stands at a crossroads. We can pause, remembering who we were and who we are called to be or stagger on into self-inflicted disaster and ruin.

God will deal with us as he did with Israel, setting before them a blessing and a curse, “…the blessing if you obey…, the curse if you disobey…” Further warning them – and us – to, “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other god’s… (Or proclaim there is none but of our own making.) Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you… Fix these words of mine in your hearts and mind… Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on your door frames and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land…” Deuteronomy 11:26-28,16-21

The questions posed by Memorial Day (as well as the 4th of July) are: Who are we? Who were we? And does it matter who we were in relation to who we are now? Where did we come from? What were the beliefs of our forefathers and how important did they consider them to be, not only in their houses of worship but in their political houses as well?

We must acknowledge that not every citizen of the just-forming United States was a Christian nor were all the members of their governing bodies. But historian James Reichly’s findings may surprise some. “The single most influential cultural force at work in the new nation was the combination of religious beliefs and social attitudes known as Puritanism. At the time of the revolution, at least 75 percent of American citizens had grown up in families espousing some form of Puritanism. Among the remainder more than half had roots in related traditions of European Calvinism.” This goes a long way to corroborate the fact that of the 55 men who met for the Constitutional Convention, 50 openly espoused one form or another of Christianity. Church attendance records, public speaking, religious and political pamphlets as well as public examples of piety attesting to these figures. Of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, most were either deeply religious or at least showed respect for the Christian traditions of the various colonies and Biblical moral values. As a group, agreeing with scripture that, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Proverbs 14:34

James Madison, chief framer of the constitution said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the powers of government, but upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments….” He and the other founding fathers realized the danger in the unprecedented freedoms being given to the citizenry, as freedom demands self-control; absolute freedom fostering license and inviting chaos.

Samuel Adams, called the Father of the American Revolution because of his tireless opposition to English rule declared, “These (rights) may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the insights of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church which is to be found clearly written… in the New Testament.”

Their goal wasn’t to keep government and religion totally separate, but one of not institutionalizing religion and politics as a single entity. Even as John Quincy Adams believed that, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

Patrick Henry summed up the feelings of many by saying, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason people of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” We must be vigilant to ensure that the government born of Christian principles does not become the means by which those principles are now denied.

Check back next week for more on the value of what some see as outdated testimonials and memorials of our past that could go a long way in ensuring our future.

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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