Tuesday, November 27, 2007

11/27/07, A Question Upon the Occasion of the Recent National Day of Thanksgiving

Thankful to Who, How and When?

There is no question that the Scripture calls us to be thankful and that first and foremost to God. An attitude of gratitude is a given and of the first principle. If we are not, then the progression in sin and judgement begins as set out in the first chapter of Romans. "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Rom. 1:21)." Rather the problem with or objections to the National Day of Thanksgiving in America for reformed presbyterians lies in other areas. One, there are no rote religious anniversary thanksgiving days authorized in Scripture other than the one day in seven New Testament Lord’s Day. Yet there are occasional days of public thanksgiving or fasting depending on the extraordinary circumstances of the time. Two, the civil magistrate does not have authority to call a religious thanksgiving or fast day without consulting with and advice from the church. Three, in a country such as ours which formally recognizes no religion and has trampled on the law of God, to observe a religious day of thanksgiving is hypocritical, if not presumptuous.

One, there are no rote religious anniversary thanksgiving days authorized in Scripture other than the one day in seven now in the post New Testament era to thank God for his son, Christ and the gospel of the forgiveness of our sins, as well our numerous other spiritual and physical blessings in this life and land. (For that matter, speaking of observing days, presbyterians celebrate "Easter" once a week, not once a year. Christ’s resurrection was the reason for the change from the seventh day in the Old Testament to the first day in the New.) Geo. Gillespie went through the entire question of regular and routine anniversary feast days, a long time ago in his classic Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies (1637). If our national Thanksgiving Day is not quite the same thing, the principle still applies. Reducing a thanksgiving day to an annual routine affair is not quite what a real thanksgiving day according to the Scripture is all about.

This is spelled out in the Appendix to the Westminster Directory for Public Worship which is entitled "Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship". It says, "it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God's providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people (emph. added)". Note, "several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence." Not the ho hum ‘it’s that time of year again for Turkey day’ which is how it is commonly come to be known. (For some comments on 'Thanksgiving, Such As It Is' and the superficiality of the most recent proclamation from someone who observes the day, go here.) The chapter in the Directory, "Concerning Publick Solemn Fasting" starts out by saying:

When some great and notable judgments are either inflicted upon a people, or apparently imminent, or by some extraordinary provocations notoriously deserved; as also when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, publick solemn fasting (which is to continue the whole day) is a duty that God expecteth from that nation or people.
Which is what happened after a sort on Black Friday three days after the attacks on the WTC towers and the Pentagon on Black Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 with the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Unfortunately though, as compared further with the Directory’s "Concerning Publick Solemn Fasting," much more the Westminster Confession (Chapt. 21:1,2) and Catechisms, it was a syncrenistic, if not polytheistic affair if there ever was one. Yet the "eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence" of that week did indeed call for genuine day of prayer and humiliation, though the pluralistic attempt fell short.

The section in the Directory on "Observation of Days of Public Thanksgiving" doesn’t say much further than the Appendix on the question, but enough has been said to recognize that the days of thanksgiving or fasting recognized by the presbyterian Directory for Worship are occasional, not annual. But that again, is not what the American Thanksgiving Day is all about. Every year, come what may, the third Thursday of November will be proclaimed a "Day of Thanksgiving" according to the calendar, rather than some eminent or extraordinary dispensation of God’s providence."

Two, not only this, that the President alone sees fit to call this day of thanksgiving and the Christian churches follow suit, is an erastian compromise by the latter. The church in America plays no part at all in determining whether a religious Thanksgiving day is in order. Yet Christ is king of his church and reformed presbyterians in better days considered "prescribing diets and causes of fasting and thanksgiving in the magistrate’s name and authority" alone to be an usurpation by that magistrate over a backsliding church (See the Auchensaugh Renovation of 1712 under the Third Article in the Solemn Acknowledgment of Public Sins and Breaches of the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant.) Granted if the church is in a broken state, as it was in 1643 when the English Parliament called the Assembly which gave us the Westminster Standards, the magistrate may assume what is the church’s responsibility and duty. But the church is not in such a broken state today that she cannot do her duty here. Rather the President is only confirming the confusion of the American church, not rectifying it and that includes most American presbyterian churches. They are compromised and backslidden in this and other areas and consequently they acquiesce in and approve of this national routine day of Thanksgiving.

Three, all this is further aggravated by the fact that while the Federal Constitution does implicitly acknowledge the Christian day of rest, "If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted)" in Art. 1, Sect. 7, the Constitution is essentially and explicitly agnostic, if not atheistic. Art. 6 of the US Constitution concludes by saying, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." The Preamble tells us that "We the people" who "ordain and establish" the Constitution do so only to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." No more, no less. No tests or religious oaths of office and nothing of the glory of God and obedience to his Word, even the word become flesh, his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ is acknowledged in the purpose of the document.

The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights starts out by saying "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. . ." So much for the First Commandment of which the Larger Catechism says:

Q. 104. What are the duties required in the first commandment?
A. The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God . . .
And from the refusal to acknowledge God or Christ, it is downhill. Even the general evangelical American church laments the violations of the sixth and seventh commandments in the legalization of abortion and most recently, the attempts to legitimize homosexual "marriage". (Neither the sabbath or marriage were ever peculiarly Jewish or religious in that popular American evangelical dispensationalism sees any post New Testament observance of the Fourth Commandment as Jewish and legalistic because it is only relevant to Old Testament Israel. Yet both the day of rest and marriage are creation ordinances applied to man as man and established at the beginning of time in the Garden before the Fall and the separation of church and state from the family, the separation of people into the races and tribes of the earth, much more the beginning of Israel as a nation at Sinai.) Nevertheless, due to long standing tradition and wishful thinking - perhaps because the President takes his oath of office with his hand on the Bible - it is still commonly believed that America is a Christian nation and that God must bless America, etc. (Chapter 22 of the Westminster Confession "Of Lawful Oaths and Vows" says nothing of the superstitious practice of swearing upon a Bible.) All the inconsistencies and compromises are winked at and the annual National Day of Thanksgiving prevails, year in and year out.

The question again is, are we to observe the annual National Day of Thanksgiving in America, because we are called to give thanks to God in all things? No. The day is an annual routine affair contrary to Scripture. It is called by a compromised, if not pluralistic civil magistrate - President Bush called Islam a "peace-loving faith" in his official Ramadan greetings - who is sworn to uphold the godless US constitution. It is an usurpation of the church of Christ’s duty in such matters. It also essentially further confirms, aids and abets the national deistic/unitarian civil religion, which confidently believes God must always bless America but does not believe in or obey God's law or even acknowledge Christ, his Son. Not only that, uniformity in this "faith" is a civil and political good as well as a righteous religious work that will help us earn heaven. That even many Christians who observe the day might formally deny this nationalistic perversion of Christianity, is no matter to the nonChristians who also observe the day, being misled and stumbled by the practical Christian approval of it.

Rather it is presumptuous, smug and hypocritical to proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving, when this nation tramples on the Ten Commandments as it does, much more a routine and annual Thanksgiving Day. Neither are we called to give thanks to God that he seemingly ignores our national sin of ignoring him and his word, beginning first with our constitution and straying even further from there. Rather we are to repent of it. But God will not be mocked and he judges us whether we realize it or not, even in our lukewarmness and judicial blindness as we observe this day.